The folks at MadFriars give us their Northwest League player of the year.
FS San Diego
Summary: It was a very tough year in Eugene as the Emeralds finished with the worst record in the Northwest League at 27-49. A big reason for the struggles was San Diego’s draft emphasis on high school talent, who went to the Arizona League instead of Eugene. After first round pick Hunter Renfroe made his July cameo in the Northwest League the next highest position player in Eugene this season was fourteenth-rounder catcher Ryan Miller.
Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards. Whichever team the player appeared for most is where he is eligible. For the top prospect, we took into account not just what the player did this year, but his age and potential impact in the major leagues.
Level: The Northwest League has existed in various forms since 1901. It features a mix of college talent acquired in the current draft, as well as high school and Latin American prospects who worked their way up from rookie ball. Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters in this circuit since the batters must transition from metal bats to wood. Players rarely go straight from the high school ranks to this level, with most having some experience in either the Arizona League or in college.
Player of the Year:
CF Ronnie Richardson .298/.475/.444
Richardson was drafted last year out of the University of Central Florida and hit .233/.396/.352 for the Emeralds in 2012. Unable to get a spot on the Fort Wayne roster, he returned to extended spring and Eugene for 2013 where he led the league in on-base percentage and finished second in slugging. Richardson finished up the year in Lake Elsinore where he struggled in limited playing time.
The powerfully built five-foot-seven centerfielder has speed but is going to have to get better on the basepaths as he was caught eight out of the fifteen times he attempted to steal.
RF Hunter Renfroe .308/.333/.510
Renfroe was the Padres’ number one selection in 2013 and understandably got the lion’s share of attention in Eugene. He started off strong with thirteen extra-base hits in his first twenty games along with some sparkling defensive play. There are some negatives though to go along with all of the superlatives, including a .191 batting average on the road and 26 strikeouts in 109 plate appearances. Still, it was hard to not be excited by what we saw from him in Eugene especially in a down year.
Player of the Year:
Renfroe’s defense alone might be enough to give him the player of the year nod. In his first week he made a diving stop on a ball in the gap, and nailed a runner at third. At the plate Renfroe was the only real power threat the team had. At the time of his promotion he was leading the club in doubles (9), home runs (4), and runs batted in (18). Renfroe was not flawless at the plate, striking out 26 times in only 25 games but he managed to live up to the first round pick hype.
If Richardson did not get player of the year, he was going to get runner up. After Renfroe’s .308 average and Richardson’s .298 average, the next highest was Wynton Bernard at .250. While Ronnie did lead the club in most offensive categories, he started to struggle toward the end of the season without Renfroe, when opponents could continually pitch around him. This did help lead to a remarkable .475 on base percentage. Unfortunately it only led to 24 runs in 48 games as he was caught stealing more times than he succeeded. Richardson also led the outfield in errors with four. No matter how you look at it, Richardson put together a solid season and deserves an opportunity to start next year at Fort Wayne.
Player of the Year:
The University of Central Florida Knight posted team-best .919 OPS for the year, beating Renfroe out by 70-plus points, and finishing more than 150 points above number three on the club, teenager Malquiel Brito. As a 23-year-old repeating in short-season, Richardson certainly ought to have been able to deliver for the Ems. This year, he did.
Renfroe’s grip-and-rip approach at the plate helped him to an Isolated Power rate (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .202. That’s an impressive showing which would have tied him for second on the circuit if he’d had enough at-bats to qualify. However, as the knock has been since the Mississippi State slugger broke onto the national prospect scene, he whiffed in 25 percent of his at-bats and sometimes swung himself into bad counts. The über-athletic outfielder threw out four runners in only 25 games, a hint at just how impressive his arm is defensively.
Others of Note: Catcher Ryan Miller showed some early promise with a .345 batting average in June before a down July hurt his overall numbers. He rebounded in August and has the size and athletic ability you want to see in a backstop. 1B Trae Santos led the Emeralds in total bases with 76 but only posted an OPS of .666. Regardless of any superstitions, that’s not good any way you slice it. OF Donavan Tate, the Padres’ first round pick in 2009 and third overall, struggled in his return hitting .213. The talent is there, he had a .363 on-base percentage in July, but time is running out. He is going to have to make the Lake Elsinore squad out of spring training to have any shot of making the big leagues. Young outfielders Malquiel Brito and Henry Charles both have interesting tools, but neither took a significant step forward in their second seasons in the States this year.
MadFriars’ 2013 Eugene Emeralds Player of the Year:
One of the Padres’ biggest needs is for an athletic, power hitting outfielder. Renfroe certainly fits the bill. The 21-year-old slugger has immense raw power, but he will need to make more consistent contact in the coming years if he is going to turn that ability into consistent success. Talent evaluators look for “carrying tools” in a prospect, and the Mississippi native has several, so he will get every opportunity in the world to succeed.