EUGENE – One of the better known, but least familiar players in the Padres’ system is Franchy Cordero, who was considered one of the top talents deep within the organization at the end of last year.
Playing in the short-season Arizona League in 2013, the left-handed hitting shortstop posted a slash line of .333/.381/.511, finishing fourth in the league in batting average and second in slugging percentage at only 18-years-old. Defensively, he made 11 errors in 30 games – but the important part, as Bill Mitchell of Baseball America wrote in his end of the year chat on prospects was that, "He’s got the tools and aptitude to stay at shortstop, now it will depend on whether he grows out of the position."
Coming into the year he was ranked the number 10 prospect by MadFriars and number 11 in Baseball America, and then the season started.
In Low-A Fort Wayne he hit .188 with 36 strikeouts in 89 plate appearances but even more ominously committed 18 errors in 20 games.
The Dominican native was sent out of the cold of northeastern Indiana at the end of the April and back to extended spring training to regroup for short-season Eugene, which is a step above the AZL, with hopes that the organization’s coaches could work on his confidence and most importantly, his defense.
With the Emeralds the hitting did come around as Franchy posted a .279/.329/.458 slash line and was tied for third in the league with nine home runs before his season ended on August 21 with a hand injury, but the errors continued with 34 in 36 games causing the fans and the personnel in Eugene to come to the same conclusion of those in Fort Wayne.
Why is he at shortstop?
"There is no question on the ability, that is why he is part of our organization," said Eddie Rodriguez, the Padres bilingual roving infield instructor who has been working with Cordero in Eugene.
"He knows that he has been struggling with his throwing and has done extensive work on the side to get more individualized attention. He is coming around."
One of the things that makes Cordero appealing is also one that hinders him is his size. At six-foot-three, he frequently becomes either too upright or gets into too much of a crouch, which affects his ability to find the correct arm slot to make accurate throws.
"You have to combine the footwork and body control with the slot to create consistency and that is what we are trying to achieve."
Cordero, through Rodriguez’s interpretation, agreed that his biggest problem this year has been finding the correct arm angle and making the adjustment to shortstop after originally being signed as a third baseman, but is proud that he has not let his defensive woes affect his offense.
"I was always taught to separate each phase of the game. So if I make a bad play on defense I am not going to bring it back into the dugout."
At the short-season level the key criteria is about ability, or tools, as compared to consistency of play which becomes a much bigger factor as players forward through the system. Under this level of analysis, an athletic, young, big shortstop, regardless of if he struggles with consistency is a valuable asset.
"We know he can hit, hit with power, run, steal bases and has a better than average arm for the position," reiterated Rodriguez. "So right now it’s just a process to get him to achieve what he is capable off."
When watching Cordero it becomes apparent that he is still very new to the position, frequently not knowing when or where to throw the ball along with being in the wrong place for cutoff plays.
As Shawn Wooten, a former Padres’ organizational manager in Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore once commented on current Padres’ right fielder Rymer Liriano, another player from the Dominican Republic, many times early in their careers these players need more games to develop because while they have played a lot of baseball, they haven’t played as much organized baseball as their American counterparts.
The Padres, while obviously having slightly higher expectations for Cordero coming into the season, have not backed off on their optimism of his long-range potential.
"Franchy is extremely talented and has physical gifts that very few players do," said Randy Smith, the Padres Director of Development and former head of International Scouting who has long been a proponent of Cordero’s.
"At first the throwing problems were physical and then became mental. To us, he has been showing progress and hopefully the throwing problems will disappear overnight the same way that they appeared."
Cordero for his part has also not lowered his expectations for himself believing that the best way to end the throwing errors is by the same method that got him drafted; keep working.
"I’ve always loved the game and also want to help my family through baseball," Cordero said on why he began playing.
"That is how I became a left-handed hitter. When I was young, the coach I was working with tried to make me into a switch-hitter. But I got so tired from taking so many swings he let me pick which side I wanted to hit from."
When told that Matt Eddy of Baseball America, who writes extensively on the Padres, noted that if Franchy makes the major leagues he will become the first left-handed only hitting Dominican shortstop to ever make the big leagues, Cordero chuckled and said, "Tell Matt I look forward to reading his article about me when I am in San Diego."