Jorge Salgado

MadFriars' El Paso Notebook

Thoughts and observations from our recent trip to see the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas.

Quick Overview:  The prospects in El Paso are catcher Austin Hedges (injured), center fielder Manuel Margot and right fielder Hunter Renfroe.  While A.J. Preller caught some grief for trading away the best players in the minor league system in 2015, he did hang onto the two with the highest ceilings - Hedges and Renfroe.  Along with Margot, all three have the potential to be impact players on the big league level.

Also keep an eye on infielder Carlos Asuaje, who came over in the Craig Kimbrel trade.   

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Before he underwent surgery, Austin Hedges was making a strong case that he might be ready sooner rather than later for the big leagues.  Hedges was hitting .333/.385/.583 in his first ten games before it was discovered, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported he suffered a hamate fracture to his left hand and will undergo surgery with an estimated recovery time of six to eight weeks.

Hedges hit well last year in his first 21 games with El Paso (.324/.392/.521) before being called up for the full year in the big leagues, but he looks like a different hitter now.  He is more comfortable not only going the other way, but going the other way with power.  Both Hedges and his hitting coach Morgan Burkhart credit the change with him fully buying into the Padres philosophy of  “being on time” which means being in the proper hitting position before the ball is released.  

“Being on time” has allowed Hedges to not cheat on the fastball and he didn’t chase as many sliders as he has in the past.

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The other two main prospects to watch are right fielder Hunter Renfroe and centerfielder Manuel Margot.  With Rymer Liriano moving onto Milwaukee Renfroe is the last true five-tool prospect in the organization, although one could make a case for Fort Wayne’s Michael Gettys.  

As Baseball America has noted, Renfroe has made some mechanical adjustment at the plate – cutting down on his leg clip and holding his hands slightly lower – the biggest difference from last year in Double-A San Antonio was a vastly improved mental approach at the plate.  Renfroe, as both his manager Rod Barajas and Burkhart noted (who both were with him last year in Double-A San Antonio), is that he is much more aware of situations, what pitchers are trying to do to him, and more importantly what he is going to do.

One other quick note nowhere are Renfroe’s physical gifts more evident than watching him play right field.  In one of the games, a runner tried to go from first to third on a medium fly to right. Renfroe unleashed a cannon shot to third base to gun down a fast runner by a few steps.

He is not quite ready yet for the big leagues, but his understanding of the game and ability to translate that into game performances has grown exponentially from last year.

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Early in the season Margot was in a bit of a slump, partially caused by a long precautionary layoff from spring training – he hurt his arm/shoulder crashing into a an outfield wall and, as Barajas stated, maybe pressing a little too much to impress a new organization.  For those who haven’t seen him yet, he is a gifted centerfielder, but I’m not sure I would rank his defensive ability over Travis Jankowski.  At the plate he is stronger than Jankowski, and seems to have quite a bit of gap-power within him.

Only 21, his biggest challenge for a player that profiles as a lead-off hitter will be to increase his on-base percentage and steals.

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One player that both David Jay and I missed on by not having him in our Top 30s, but Ben Davey (#11) and Kevin Charity (#19) did not, is infielder Carlos Asuaje.  In the three games that I saw he didn’t have one bad at-bat and handled everything in the field flawlessly.  It’s true he is not the biggest guy in the world at 5’9”, 160, but he has surprising pop in his left-handed bat and consistently barrels the ball.

He hasn’t played shortstop yet, but it is hard to not see him not being able to handle the position in a utility role.

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The pitching here, and at Double-A San Antonio, is devoid of any prospects.  RHP Justin Hancock struggled in the night that I saw him but does have some potential with two-seam/sinker combination. The rest of the pitching staff, Daniel McCutchen, Greg Reynolds and Jeremy Guthrie has big league experience, and the ability to evolve into "crafty" veterans; they just haven’t shown it yet.

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A big surprise for the organization is how well Nick Noonan has played shortstop after primarily being used at second and third when he was with the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankee organizations.  The former Francis Parker High School star has a .310 batting average, has yet to make an error in the field and is yet another left-handed hitting middle infielder.

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Interesting note; in the Chihuahuas infield only the recently promoted Diego Goris hits from right side. Asuaje, Noonan, Ryan Schimpf, Casey McElroy and first baseman James Loney are all left-handed hitters.

Odds and Ends:  Barajas says that OF/DH Alex Dickerson will be in the lineup for every game when they play an American League team (at Double-A and above, pitchers hit when playing National League affiliated teams) but may start the game on the bench against NL teams.   The Chihuahuas’ manager believes that Dickerson’s best opportunity to get to the big leagues will be as a backup outfielder/pinch-hitter and he wants to prepare him for that role… Loney has provided a nice addition to the team by providing middle of the order protection.  It is unlikely he will be in San Diego with Wil Myers playing well but could use his opt-out if another major league team is interested.

Next month we will be in Double-A San Antonio.


 


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