On November 18th, the Padres added four new players to the 40-man roster: shortstop Javier Guerra, pitcher Walker Lockett, converted pitcher Jose Ruíz, and outfielder Franchy Cordero. While Lockett has the greatest chance of making the big club this year (Ruiz and Guerra ended 2016 in High A Lake Elsinore), Cordero has a lot of potential and ended the year in Triple-A El Paso.
A little background on the newest member of the Padres 40-man: In 2012, the Padres signed 17-year-old Franchy Cordero out of the Dominican Republic for $175,000. Though he was 6’3”, San Diego figured him to play primarily at shortstop, though some scouts saw him as a third base candidate. After spending time with the Dominican Academy and in extended spring training, he broke into A-ball as a 19-year-old. His debut, however, failed to live up to the high praise bestowed upon him by numerous scouts who watched him in the Spring Training backfields in 2014 (notably Jason Parks, formerly of Baseball Prospectus and currently with the Chicago Cubs).
By the end of 2015, Cordero had put together a lackluster .243/.293/.306 hitting line, and almost all of his prospect-shine was gone. After committing a whopping 50 errors at short in 2014 (across about 500 innings), San Diego gave up on him as a viable infielder and he began the transition to the outfield (after racking up 20 more errors at short in about 200 innings).
This year, he started the season with Lake Elsinore, and hope in the young Dominican was restored. He slashed .286/.339/.444 in 74 games, which netted him a promotion to San Antonio. There, he continued to impress, putting up a .306/.356/.478 line. By the end of the year, he earned a call up to help the Chihuahuas with their playoff run, though he had just one hit in 13 at bats.
Needless to say, Cordero is back on the Padres prospect map. I live about three hours north of San Antonio, and was able to take in a Missions game over the summer. From my non-expert view, he also showed good instincts in the outfield and on the base paths, and made solid contact, going 1-4 with a two RBI triple that turned out to be the game-winning run. Before the game, I had the chance to sit down and talk with him about changing to his approach, moving to the outfield, and the difference in the style of play between the US and the Dominican Republic.
(Worth noting: The interview was conducted in Spanish, and while I feel very confident about the translation to English, there was one question that, no matter how many times I rewound on my recorder, I just could not understand, so this interview was actually a little longer than it looks here.)
Padre fans have followed your career since you started in Eugene in 2014. This year, you’ve been hitting better than ever. Is there something you’ve changed in your approach since your debut?
Yes, I’ve been working in the offseason, and I’ve been concentrating on hitting the pitch that I can hit, a good pitch that I can put a good swing on. This has helped me a lot, being more selective in my approach.
At the beginning of your time with the Padres, you started off playing shortstop, but now you’ve spent a lot of time in center field. How long did it take for you to feel comfortable there?
I don’t know, not much time at all? Immediately I felt confidence out there, and I developed habits in following the ball and maintaining movement out in center. I’m not going to say that it was easy, because I still feel more comfortable at short than in center, but it didn’t take too much, I learned pretty fast. Working with the coaches was one thing that really helped me out a lot.
Has moving to center field helped you focus more on your hitting?
Why is that?
Well, when I played at shortstop, I made a lot of errors, and when I was at bat, sometimes I’d think about my defense, and it wouldn’t help. Moving to center, now I’m making fewer mistakes, and my mind is fresh at the plate.
Was it difficult to leave the Dominican Republic and come to the United States?
Yes, at the beginning it was, because I was leaving my family, spending a lot of time without seeing them. The first year, it was a little difficult, not seeing my family since 2013. But year after year, you get accustomed to it (his family is still in the D.R.).
What are some of the differences in the style of play from the Dominican Republic and the United States?
Here, the game is much faster, and the margin for error is much smaller. One bad throw means that you’re having to help out your pitcher. You have to play harder to keep from making any mistakes.