Hunter Renfroe finished his amateur career with a bang. The 21-year-old outfielder was one of the top players in the college ranks, hitting a robust .345, with 16 home runs, at Mississippi State. The San Diego Padres were impressed. They took him with the 13th overall pick in the June draft.
Renfroe’s tool kit includes more than a lethal bat from the right side. He also has plus wheels and a gun in the outfield. Originally drafted out of high school by the Red Sox, he had pro potential at multiple positions, including pitcher and catcher.
Renfroe had a solid first professional season. In 43 games between Eugene and Fort Wayne he hit .271, with 20 of his 46 hits going for extra bases.
Renfroe on his hitting approach: “When I step into the box, I’m thinking right-center gap — drive the ball from center to right-center — and whatever works out, works out. I just try to hit the ball hard. I don’t try to get too much topspin, or too much backspin, I just try to hit the ball right in the face.
“Different counts vary my approach. On the first pitch, or in even counts, I’m looking for a pitch in the middle of the plate and adjusting in or out. If I’m in an advantage count, like 2-0 or 3-1, I’m looking for a pitch middle-in that I can drive to left-center, and if it’s outside, I can just take it. If I get down 0-2 or 1-2, or even if it’s 3-2, I’m looking to hit a ball to the middle of the field. Maybe it will be something to drive to the opposite field.
“I kind of accept [being labeled a power hitter] but I’m trying to cut down on strikeouts. I try to hit doubles and not worry about trying to drop and drive, and hit the ball out of the ballpark. I try to use all parts of the field for power, and drive the ball into the gaps for doubles.
“I try not to think too much. Once you start thinking too much, what follows is bad. I try to go up there and react to the fastball and adjust to breaking balls. I basically just try to gear everything up and take what the pitcher gives me.”
On adjustments and injuries: “Coming off the long year I’ve had, my body is pretty tired. I’ve had to get used to playing every day, using a wooden bat again, and adjust to the professional lifestyle. Next year I’ll know what’s coming, so things will be easier for me. The adjustments will be there and hopefully I can roll right through them and do a lot better. Right now, I’m just trying to do what needs to be done to move on.
“I’ve had some struggles since I’ve been here. I took a fastball off my top hand, on the side of it. I’d actually broken it the same way in February, so it was a real scare. It was in the exact same spot, a 93-mph fastball off my hand. There was a bruise, and it swelled real big, so I wasn’t able to play for a few days. But I’m getting better; my hand feels good.”
On thinking like a pitcher: “Any time you can dig inside a pitcher’s brain, you do. We have some of the best pitching coaches in all of baseball, and any time you can ask them about at bats and what’s going on… it’s remarkable what they see.
“I think having been both a pitcher and a catcher helps me. It helps me realize what’s going on the pitcher’s head, and the catcher’s head. It gives me a better idea of what to look for in certain counts — how they’re going to pitch me — and stuff like that.
“I could have made it, probably, as three different things: pitcher, catcher, or outfielder. I got drafted as a catcher out of high school [by the Red Sox, in the 31st round] and would have gone higher if I hadn’t told all the scouts I was going to college. I also could have gone as a pitcher, throwing 98 mph. It was kind of whatever I wanted to do, and outfield was my best bet.”
On patience and rhythm: “I didn’t necessarily feel pressure this year [at Mississippi State]. I just knew I had to go out there and perform, relax and have fun. I knew things would fall into place if I did that. I went out and hit the ball pretty well and played good outfield defense. I just have to keep doing that throughout my professional career. If I can be patient at the plate and stay in my rhythm, I’ll be fine.”