BREAK­OUT TIME

Imperial Valley Press - - SPORTS -

MLB Padres rookie Hunter Ren­froe hopes for pow­er­ful sea­son.

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Hunter Ren­froe is hop­ing a smash­ing start to his ma­jor league ca­reer late last sea­son will turn into big suc­cess this year.

Ren­froe made his de­but last Sept. 21 and went 9 for 22 with three home runs and 13 RBIs for the San Diego Padres in the fi­nal six games. That fast start earned him the Na­tional League Player of the Week honor.

Ren­froe’s most im­pres­sive hit was a home run that landed on top of the roof of the West­ern Metal Sup­ply build­ing down the left field line of San Diego’s Petco Park. No other homer had ever gone as high up onto the brick build­ing in a game.

It’s that kind of power, plus Ren­froe’s Triple-A num­bers be­fore he got the call-up, that make him the projected starter in right field for the re­build­ing Padres on open­ing day.

Ren­froe hit .306 with 34 dou­bles, 30 home runs and 105 RBIs in 133 games at El Paso last sea­son, on his way to be­ing picked the Pa­cific Coast League’s Most Valu­able Player. El Paso won the league title.

“The whole ex­pe­ri­ence of El Paso and be­ing able to get a cham­pi­onship there, and spend time with some guys that are very good . I think it’s a con­fi­dence builder,” Ren­froe said.

Ren­froe, a mem­ber of the Padres’ “Core Four” of prospects who were all called up to the ma­jors the same day last sea­son after com­plet­ing El Paso’s post­sea­son run, un­der­stands why he wasn’t brought up sooner. He was able to de­velop and play mean­ing­ful games at Triple-A along with top prospects Austin Hedges, Manuel Mar­got and Car­los Asuaje.

“We had a lot of fun there, and we knew that we were there for the long haul,” Ren­froe said. “So we stuck it out and got called up at the end of the sea­son.”

The pay­off is be­gin­ning this sea­son in the bigs, and the Padres are giv­ing Ren­froe plenty of prepa­ra­tion games and at-bats in spring training. They’ve even used him in left field and cen­ter field, just to get a look and be­cause of a re­cent spell of in­juries, mi­nor and ma­jor, among their outfielders.

“Matt Kemp and some of the crew that was up here (in 2016), those guys were go­ing to get the at-bats,” Padres gen­eral man­ager A.J. Preller said. “So we didn’t want a sit­u­a­tion where some of the young play­ers were go­ing to come up here and be part-time play­ers. I think it’s im­por­tant for their de­vel­op­ment to go out and get an­other 500 at-bats at the Triple-A level and play ev­ery sin­gle day, and when it got close to the end of the sea­son, they had a chance to com­pete and win and play in some mean­ing­ful games. We val­ued that over the chance to come up here to the big leagues ear­lier but not get reg­u­lar ABs.”

Kemp was traded away by Au­gust, clear­ing more space for the Padres’ youth move­ment.

Ren­froe has played in two All-Star Fu­tures games, sure signs that the Padres thought highly of his ma­jor league fu­ture. Con­cerns have been raised about his low walk rate — Ren­froe drew just 22 walks in 563 plate ap­pear­ances — but he is work­ing on plate dis­ci­pline in spring training.

“I don’t foul off a lot of balls. I think when I swing the bat I put the ball in play a lot of times,” Ren­froe said. “That may kind of hurt me and help me, too, at the same time. If you’re go­ing to throw it over the plate, I’m usu­ally not go­ing to miss it, put it in play some­where.”

If out­side ex­pec­ta­tions for are higher after what Ren­froe did in 2016, man­ager Andy Green isn’t wor­ried about them.

“I know he showed some things last year in Petco, es­pe­cially, from a power per­spec­tive and arm strength per­spec­tive, and he’s shown those same things in camp here,” Green said. “His chal­lenge has al­ways been and will al­ways be stay­ing in the strike zone, swing at strikes . ... We get that in his head and he con­tin­ues that bat­tle, he’s go­ing to be a very good ma­jor league hit­ter for a long time.”

San Diego Padres' Hunter Ren­froe runs dur­ing a spring training base­ball game against the Cincin­nati Reds on Wed­nes­day in Goodyear, Ariz. AP PHOTO

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