San Francisco Giants fans: Have you seen an El Paso Chihuahuas box score lately? Not only is the answer probably, “no,” there’s a good chance you’re wondering, “who the heck are the Chihuahuas?” They’re the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A team, and it’s worth paying attention to them, because the first five hitters in the lineup are raking at astonishing level.
After Sunday’s, all five are hitting better than .300, including one who’s up to .423 through 43 games. The only one whose OPS is below .900 is the leadoff who hitter who is tied for second in the Pacific Coast League with 16 stolen bases.
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So, who are these guys, and why should Giants folks care? To answer the latter part of the question: because, after sending James Shields to the Chicago White Sox on Satruday, the Padres are likely to continue trading away their veteran players, such as Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton Jr., as they go into full rebuild mode. That will open up a few spots in the lineup for their young studs on the farm.
Stastistically, the most impressive of the El Paso bunch is outfielder-first baseman Alex Dickerson. He’s the one batting .423. He also has 20 extra-base hits, including nine home runs (plus a dinger in 10 at-bats during a brief stint in the Big Leagues), and a 1.149 OPS while only striking out 15 times in 140 at-bats.
Two things could work against Dickerson’s production translating to Major League success. First, he has only walked nine times this season. However, previous seasons’ performances suggest he knows how to take walks, and when a hitter is hot and getting pitches to hit, there’s no reason to not swing. The other issue is that he is 26 years old. It’s a bit old for a true prospect, but sometimes players take longer to fulfill their potential. Plus, Dickerson has been a solid hitter at every Minor League stop since being drafted in 2011.
While Dickerson is the most productive Padres farmhand this season, outfielder Hunter Renfroe is the most highly touted, MLB-ready prospect. The 24-year-old is batting .318 with 12 home runs and 23 other extra-base hits (19 doubles, 3 triples) and 43 RBI.
While Renfroe has been a player to watch since being a first-round draft pick in 2013, he has never hit this well before in pro ball. Plus, he walks even less than Dickerson (only seven times this season). So, there are reasons to believe he won’t be this productive at the next level. Still, he profiles similarly to St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk, who is a potential 30-homer guy.
When the Padres traded closer Craig Kimbrel to Boston in the offseason, they received a haul of four prospects in return. That included center fielder Manual Margot, a 21-year-old leadoff hitter who swipes bases regularly and is showing developing power.
Because of his age, Margot might be the last of this group to play regularly in the Majors. Plus, he is a similar type of player as San Diego’s fourth outfielder, rookie Travis Jankowski, who should get a chance to start once the veterans are cleared out. Still, Margot will cause problems for the Giants in the future.
Another notable prospect from the Kimbrel trade is second baseman Carlos Asuaje. At 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, he’s small. But in a world where diminutives such as Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve are among MLB’s most dangerous hitters, a player’s projectability shouldn’t be limited by size.
Instead, Asuaje should be evaluated more for being a left-handed hitter batting .333 with 23 extra-base hits. He’s striking out just about once every eight at-bats, and his 19 walks contribute to a .393 on-base percentage.
A fifth Chihuahuas player, utility man Ryan Schimpf, is also producing at an impressive clip, with a 1.054 OPS and 41 RBI. Schimpf is a 28-year-old career minor leaguer, however, so he doesn’t offer as much upside. But he might carry potential as a bat of the bench.
All this is to say that, at some point in the next couple months, the Padres will likely be populated with young, talented hitters hungry to prove their worth to the big club. Opposed to the tired, playing-for-a-paycheck environment that appears to be gripping San Diego currently, the youth movement could make the Padres a dangerous divisional opponent for the Giants down the stretch—not as a contender for the NL West title, but as a threat to take some wins in head-to-head matchups.