Most first round draft picks’ entire athletic careers have been one unmitigated success followed by the next. Little League, high school, college – they have always been the best player on the team, if not the entire league.
But for Hunter Renfroe, the Padres’ top draft pick and thirteenth overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride.
While he had a storied high school career like many of his contemporaries, he also spent his freshman year at Mississippi State University on the bench or warming up pitchers in the bullpen. He was limited to only fourteen games, in which he hit .154.
“My freshman year, I really didn’t get that much playing time,” Renfroe said after batting practice in Eugene where he has made an instant impact on the Northwest League.
“It seemed like I was always running in from the bullpen, where I was either catching guys or warming up to come in to pitch, to the on-deck circle to pinch hit.”
“It was a tough time and really tested me, although in my sophomore year I was finally able to get into the everyday lineup.”
Recruited out of Copiah Academy in Gallman, Mississippi, Renfroe was a first team All-State selection at catcher. He also starred on the mound, flashing a 90-plusmph fastball, and also lettered in football, track and basketball.
After his freshman year, the coaching staff at MSU moved him to the outfield and ended his stints on the mound. Though he still only hit .252/.328/.374 in his sophomore year, things were starting to click.
“I hit a lot of balls hard that year, but as they say, they were all at someone,” Renfroe said of his sophomore year.
“But I could also see that I was getting better.”
And he did get better.
A good series against the top ranked Florida Gators at the end of that season seemed to propel him into the summer wood bat Cal Ripken League in Maryland, where he hit. 305 with a league-best eight home runs.
His junior year at MSU things really came together. He had a slash line of .345/.431/.620 and was named first team All-SEC. Renfroe led the Bulldogs to the final game of the College World Series before they were defeated by UCLA.
“It just all came together, maybe a little later than I would have liked, but all the work that I was putting in finally paid off.”
The Padres become aware of his ability when their area scout was impressed with his performances in early fall and the beginning of the spring.
“He had a lot of talent and we really started to see his tools become a very playable skill set, so by the end of the year he was arguably the best all-around college player in the nation,” said Chad MacDonald, the Padres’ Vice-President and Assistant General Manager who runs the scouting department.
“We started to see him more as a complete hitter than just as [someone?] who we were looking at their potential.”
Renfroe, who reported to Eugene on July 11, is the classic five-tool player who can hit, hit with power, throw, field and run. He has the ability to play center, but because of his arm and size is best suited for right field.
“I’ve really been impressed with his athleticism,” said Matt Dompe, the play-by-play voice for the Emeralds.
“He just has a cannon for an arm, can run the bases as well as anyone and seems to have a knack for getting the big hit.”
In his first month of pro ball, Renfroe hit .329, led the team with four home runs and 18 runs scored despite playing in only 19 of Eugene’s 29 games. He has been selected to the Northwest League All-Star game. According to Steve Mims, the Emeralds’ beat writer for the Eugene Register Guard, the Padres have told the Emeralds that Renfroe will stay until after the all-star game.
As some predicted Renfroe has struggled to make consistent contact, averaging nearly a strikeout a game. How well he can improve his contact rate is going to play a key role as he moves up the system. But it is hard to not be excited by a player whose only equal in the system in terms of raw ability is outfielder Rymer Liriano; who has missed the year with Tommy John surgery.
If the Padres follow the model that they did with other high draft picks like Jedd Gyorko in 2010 and Cory Spangenberg in 2011, we should see Renfroe in low-A Fort Wayne by August with the goal of having him start 2014 in High-A Lake Elsinore.
“Right now those five tools have become a skill set. And by the way he’s been performing, we are pretty happy,” said MacDonald.