Twitter Mailbag: Margot’s Ceiling

This is the seventh Friday mailbag in a row; thanks for all the great questions.

Manuel Margot‘s had a really solid rookie campaign, although certain aspects of his game have left something to be desired. On offense, the one thing that’s surprised me is his strikeout rate. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I figured he’d jump into the majors and make a lot of contact right away. So far he’s whiffing 19.2 percent of the time, which is a tick or two better than league average but maybe a bit higher than anticipated for someone who only struck out 11.5 percent of the time in his minor-league career and earned top prospect status largely for his hit tool.

Here’s the encouraging news on that front:

Month Strikeout %
April 27.6
May 19.0
June 27.8 (18 PAs)
July 23.1
August 14.6

Margot’s strikeout rate has been trending down this season, with August by far being his best month. Even more encouragingly, he’s been able to show both power and contact ability at the same time, swatting five homers and 10 extra-base hits this month. That’s a small sample, of course, but he’s hitting .281/.318/.494 in the second-half. He’s a rookie, so there’s not much to go on; steady improvement is all we can ask.

Alright, alright, give me back my wet blanket. Earlier in the year, I (perhaps foolishly) compared Margot’s game to Byron Buxton‘s. Look at the difference between Margot and Buxton defensively and on the bases:

Margot 12/18 0.4 6.0/8.0/-7.4
Buxton 24/25 5.7 10.3/23.0/24.7

It’s not really fair to compare anyone to Buxton as a defender or base runner right now, but look at how much extra value he’s added over Margot in those categories. That’s like two wins. Margot’s been solid all around, but again, maybe I erred in expecting someone to make the jump to the majors and instantaneously be plus-plus all over the field. Margot can improve in time, as a base runner and a center fielder, but those parts of the game are for younger men’s legs. It’s not a lock that he becomes well above average in either area.

All this is to circle back to your original question. I think the foundation is there for a really good player. He’s cutting down his strikeout rate, which isn’t surprising given past performance. He’s hitting for some power, which isn’t surprising given his ability to make hard contact (and the juiced ball). He’s been okay-to-good in other areas, and there’s still plenty of time for him to get better before his legs slow down.

The ceiling? I’m going to say that it’s within reason that Margot rattles off a stretch of seasons where he plays like 2012 Austin Jackson (.300/.377/.479, 5-6 WAR). More likely, he comes in a notch below that (like, say, 2010 or 2013 Austin Jackson), but his ability to be pretty good at everything should ensure that he’s at least a solid player on a good team.

Well, I want to say Brad Hand, but I got burned there before. Hand still figures to receive plenty of trade action this offseason, once teams figure out how they want to build their bullpens. Yangervis Solarte remains a logical trade candidate, too, but—like with Hand—the Padres will only move him if they feel they’re getting fair value. Kirby Yates is an intriguing trade option; he’s striking out everyone who’s not hitting a home run off him. Carter Capps would have been obvious trade bait, but he’s just not the same dude right now. Seems more likely that the Padres hold onto him into next season and hope that he’s able to start racking up whiffs again.

Wil Myers? Still a long shot.

I think it’ll be pretty quiet on the free agent front. There’s just not that much there, particularly for a team in the Padres position. They’ll probably make a few bit moves to plug holes like they have recently, see if they can catch lighting in a bottle again like they have with a Trevor Cahill or a Kirby Yates. Next offseason is when they might start to be players for more long-term free agents. It’s a better class and the Padres will be a year closer to competing, with an additional year of information on which players in the organization will be around to stay.

Wouldn’t be surprised if they make a number of trades, however (see above). Most of them will probably involve the Padres trading established major leaguers for prospects, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they dealt a couple of prospects for a young, cost-controlled player of interest. I had a dream that the Padres traded Pedro Avila for Ryon Healy, so I just wanted to get that down in writing just in case.

I think that three guys from my answer a couple weeks back are mortal locks, assuming good health—Dinelson Lamet, Luis Perdomo, and Matt Strahm. Travis Wood is a front runner for another slot, but he kinda stinks. It’s not like the Padres are going all-out to compete next year, but there’s a level of subpar performance they just aren’t comfortable broaching, as we saw this year with Jered Weaver. They’ll probably give Wood a shot to rebuild some trade value, at least until he’s overtaken by someone younger.

The final slot is up for grabs. I guessed Alex Cobb as a free agent flyer, but maybe he ends up too expensive. There’s a chance they just give it to one of the young-ish guys (like Michael Kelly *looks up numbers* . . . or someone else) right out of the gate, and by the middle of the season flashier prospects like Cal Quantrill, Joey Lucchesi, or Eric Lauer could be ready for an audition.

Hmm, this is a good question. The easy answer, for the baseball ops side, is that they hired the right guy in A.J. Preller, they mostly let him do his thing, particularly with front office hires, and he’s done an excellent job recruiting and/or retaining smart baseball people.

On the other side, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t write about it much, because there are only so many words in these fingers (and others, like yourself, cover it more closely), but I agree with the general twitter consensus that the Padres marketing is pretty bad. The giveaways aren’t good, the promotional stuff in general isn’t good, and the team seems unaware of (or afraid to recognize) its own history at times. I know it’s not necessarily a great, storied history, but the Cubs went a century-plus without winning a World Series and still managed to embrace their past, the good with the bad.

I don’t know. I don’t want to be too critical, because I don’t know much about marketing. It just seems like marketing a professional baseball team in 2017 shouldn’t be that hard. Every once in while you’ve got to be a little creative and step outside the box, though.

I don’t want to be known as the guy beating the drum for the 2019 playoffs—not yet, anyway.

But . . . the Minnesota Twins went 59-103 last season yet they already have 69 wins this year and, according to Baseball Prospectus, a 45.6 percent chance of making the playoffs in the American League. Their pitching staff has been something off a mess all season, and their offense doesn’t have a single standout star (Miguel Sano‘s been really good but not quite great, and Buxton still owns a below average slash line despite the all-world defense and improving bat). Point is, it’s not that hard to turn a bad roster into a good roster, especially when you’ve got young players to lean on.

The Padres have enough good young players who should be ready by 2019 to potentially make things interesting. Obviously it’s still quite a way off, so who knows. But if guys like Manuel Margot and Lamet and Luis Urias (and on and on) develop as planned, making a run at the 2019 playoffs doesn’t feel like some kind of outlandish dream scenario, especially when you toss in a veteran acquisition or two. The Padres shouldn’t necessarily worry about pushing for it, because there’s really no reason to get antsy all of the sudden. If things come together as one might reasonably expect, though, winning 80-something games in 2019 seems more likely than not.

Jose Rondon has gotta be the morning line favorite, right? He’s had an okay year with the stick at Double-A and Triple-A and he’s due for a September call-up, where it’d make plenty of sense to play him every day at short. He’s likely not the answer long term, but he’s better than going with a vet like Erick Aybar or Alexei Ramirez again. The other logical option within the organization is Luis Urias, but he’s mostly gone back to second base in the second half, particularly since Fernando Tatis Jr. arrived in San Antonio. If neither of those options work, it’s probably another free agent veteran. In that case, give me $2 to win on Eric Sogard at 55-1.

You trying to trick me here, Marcus? It’s Fernando Tatis Jr. I think Tatis will easily be a top five prospect in all of baseball by midseason next year, if not this winter. There’s not much more you could want from a young prospect.

If you were looking for more of a hipster answer, though, I’ll go with Luis Campusano . . . or Esteury Ruiz . . . or Eguy Rosario. I like those three guys a lot, and each of them could fly up the prospect charts next year. All three could be at Fort Wayne at some point next season, too, which might be enough firepower to get Barry Bloom to make a return visit to Indiana’s second-largest city.

With the ever-growing size of the major-league bullpen, it feels like the pure defensive specialist has quietly gone by the wayside. Even a player like Javier Baez, of the Cubs, is something like a league-average hitter, although he derives much of his value from his glovework and defensive versatility. In that sense, Javier Guerra will probably have to show something more with the bat to earn a big-league roster spot. And there’s just not much there with Guerra offensively right now. He’s hitting just .218/.268/.336 in Double-A after the surprising midseason call-up, with a 30.8 percent strikeout rate and no stolen bases in three tries.

If bullpens were smaller, Guerra might work as a defensive replacement. As it stands today, he’s probably going to have to provide some real value on the other side of the ball to last in the majors.

I mentioned it earlier, but Jose Rondon is an obvious choice. It’ll mostly be the obvious guys, guys who have already been up, like Franchy Cordero, Travis Jankowski, Chase d’Arnaud, and any number of the fringier arms. Hunter Renfroe is raking in El Paso, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. He’s due for a return trip to the majors, unless his demotion wasn’t about performance at all, and the Padres want to prove a point about something.

I’ll throw out Brad Wieck—a mailbag favorite—as an outside name to watch. He’s not on the 40-man roster, so it’s no sure thing that the Padres would want to shake things up to get a look at him. But he’s a big left-handed reliever, already 25 years old, and he’s had some stretches of dominance in the minors. The control can get out of whack and he’s currently on a rehab assignment in the AZL, but keep an eye on him.

Talk about a quiet yet solid season, Franmil Reyes made the jump to Double-A as a 21-year-old and has thus far blasted a career-best 25 home runs and 52 extra-base hits. Prospect hounds have been waiting on a power breakout from Reyes for years, given his 6-foot-5, 240 pound frame, and he responded this year by posting a .214 ISO in the Texas League, besting his previous career-high of .174 that he set last year in the more hitter-friendly Cal League.

I’m going to guess that questions about where he’d fit defensively on a National League roster still exist, but the jump in power these last few seasons is definitely encouraging, especially when you consider his age and proximity to the majors. He’s a guy to watch next year, for sure.

Just for the record, I don’t think Lake Elsinore has a playoff shot. Your broader point stands, of course. I don’t think it means a whole lot, but it means something. If you can get players some extra games against good competition in high-pressure situations—as a high as a minor-league environment can create, at least—it can’t hurt, right? Overall, for the organization, I’m sure they’d rather the minor-league affiliates win than lose, but it’s not make or break either way. The main thing is individual player development.

Look at Fort Wayne, for instance. They were really bad in the first half, mostly because they had super young players like Tatis, Eguy Rosario, and Hudson Potts all over the roster. They lost a bunch of games but more importantly guys like Tatis and Potts (and Rosario, although in Arizona) were able to make developmental strides. In the second half, Fort Wayne kicked ass, thanks in part to the improvement of those young players plus key additions like Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez.

Maybe that’s the perfect scenario, really. You push guys who are young to play above their head, drop to the cellar in the standings early, but send in reinforcements over the summer so losing doesn’t become a habit. The players get to deal with failure, success, and a few more high-pressure at-bats at the end of the season.

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