The Most Exciting Player on the Padres

To be completely honest with you, I’ve been kind of bored. Bored and feeling uninspired. Maybe it’s just a winter funk, but there’s also the reality of the slow-motion baseball offseason. I know I’m not the only writer whose topic well has begun to run dry. It’s not a big deal; everything’s cyclical, and writing has its ups and downs. I’m just trying to explain to you how I got here.

When I’m feeling stuck, I frequently just play around on various leaderboards, searching for inspiration. I’ll run through leaderboards here, I’ll run through leaderboards on Baseball Reference, and I’ll run through leaderboards on Baseball Savant. Most recently I was bit by the Statcast bug, so I found myself on Baseball Savant’s familiar pages. I was looking at the exit velocity page. I was looking at the sprint speed page. Suddenly, a name jumped out I didn’t expect. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t ignore this.

I considered all the current Padres position players for whom there’s a decent sample of 2017 Statcast information available. The player with the fastest average sprint speed? It’s not Manuel Margot. It’s Franchy Cordero. And, the player with the fastest average exit velocity? It’s not Wil Myers. It’s Franchy Cordero. A few days ago, I knew next to nothing about Cordero’s skillset. I knew only of his existence. Now I realize he’s one of the more exciting young players around.

Last season, there were 450 players with reliable recorded sprint speeds, and at least 30 batted balls. By speed, Cordero finished in seventh place, and I mean seventh place overall, in baseball, sandwiched between Delino DeShields and Keon Broxton. And then, by exit velocity, Cordero finished in 35th place, sandwiched between Greg Bird and Yulieski Gurriel. This is how I originally came across him — I noticed his name high on both lists, which I certainly didn’t expect. And in order to give you a frame of reference, here are all of those 450 players, with Cordero highlighted in yellow, over toward the upper right.

Cordero didn’t play a whole lot in the major leagues. He was 22 years old, and he batted in the majors just 99 times, and he struck out a whole bunch. I’m going to come back to that later on. But even in a small window of exposure, Cordero demonstrated elite-level skills. This is a young player with high-level speed and high-level pop. That’s a tantalizing combination, and Statcast makes it virtually impossible to argue.

Let’s say you’re not completely sold. How might we otherwise support the Statcast sprint-speed reading? Between Triple-A and the majors, Cordero stole 16 bases. That’s fine, but, far more impressively, Cordero also registered 21 triples. That was three more than anyone else in professional baseball, and seven more than the guy in third place. Cordero, in 2017, was a triples machine. Also, the season before, he smacked 16 triples, so this is obviously a strength of his.

And now we can turn to the exit velocity. Generally speaking, people look at the average exit velocities, but it’s also useful to look at peak exit velocities, for a further understanding of a skill. I don’t have minor-league data, of course, but with the Padres, during his small sample, Cordero topped out just above 113 miles per hour, with this double.

It wasn’t just a one-off fluke. Next-best, Cordero got to just under 113 miles per hour, with this similar-looking homer.

Statcast tracked 49 Cordero batted balls in the majors, and he hit ten of them at least 105 miles per hour, for a rate of 20.4%. There were more than 400 players with at least 50 tracked batted balls, and here’s the entire list of batters with a higher such rate than Cordero had in his cup of coffee.

The proper interpretation is not that Franchy Cordero has Stanton-level pop. It’s just that he does hit the ball hard — very hard — and you don’t often observe that skill among burners. You’d think that Cordero’s tools could cause a scout’s jaw to drop, yet he doesn’t show up in the Baseball America organizational top-10. MLB.com ranks him 12th in the Padres system. John Sickels ranks him 11th. Cordero is flying under the radar, and while his aggressive and swing-and-miss approach certainly has something to do with that, one wonders if he’s paying the price for the Padres’ organizational depth. In a system so strong, with so many quality prospects, it’s easier for Cordero to get lost. In a shallower farm, he’d probably generate more buzz.

It’s possible I’ve gotten off track. What we know is that, in the majors, Cordero showed impressive speed and impressive pop. He also flashed impressive center-field defense, which might simply follow from how quickly he moves around. Observers have pointed out that Cordero’s outfield defense can still look a little raw and unpolished, but it’s important to consider that he entered the Padres’ system as an infielder, and he only started playing in the outfield in 2015, and in center field in 2016. Cordero is a positional convert. Having long been a shortstop before, we can tell he has the arm and the footspeed to make it all work. The early big-league results were encouraging.

The issue is that 44% major-league strikeout rate. Or, if you don’t care about that so much, the 28% Triple-A strikeout rate. Cordero swings and misses pretty often, and he doesn’t compensate by drawing many walks. If Cordero had a more polished or contact-heavy approach, he’d be one of the best prospects in the world. Right now, he’s a risk, in the same way a pitching prospect with great stuff but bad command is a risk. This is why I’m calling Cordero the most exciting player on the Padres, instead of the best one. The skills are obviously enough to excite. It remains to be seen how much comes together.

But to Cordero’s credit, even with the Triple-A aggressiveness, he put up a 146 wRC+. And, two season ago, Cordero hit nearly 60% of his batted balls on the ground. Last year, he dropped that rate into the mid-40s, showing off an awareness of the importance of lift. Cordero puts the ball in the air, hard, and the fact that he could make that adjustment suggests there might be more adjustments to come. The approach is too aggressive right now, almost certainly, but Cordero doesn’t turn 24 until early September. It shouldn’t take much more in order for Cordero to take off.

Franchy Cordero: a young center fielder with tremendous speed, A-grade strength, and a developing tendency to hit the ball in the air or on a line. Given a full season, right now, Cordero might strike out 200 times, but his approach could also take a step forward, and the suite of skills establishes a fairly high floor. When you can homer and play center field, you don’t need to do much else to be good. I don’t know why it feels like Cordero has mostly been ignored to this point, but of everybody in the Padres’ system at this writing, there’s no other player I’m more amped to watch.

We hoped you liked reading The Most Exciting Player on the Padres by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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gawd_damn catapult
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gawd_damn catapult

annnnd on my fantasy radar