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.”