With high-profile signings like Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado and a superlative farm system that has produced standout rookies like Chris Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres have begun to return to relevancy after a stretch of seasons spent in baseball’s doldrums. More eyes are trained on the team now than maybe any point in the last decade, and onlookers have begun to expect results.
As such, the majority of the attention goes to the likes of Machado and Tatis—rightfully so—leaving other players in their shadow. One forgotten Padre could be key in their 2020 campaign: after elbow and quad injuries have limited him to just 49 games over the last two seasons, it’s easy to discount Franchy Cordero among the Padres’ core of young players. We’ve seen glimpses of his potential since he debuted in 2017, but we’ve yet to get a real extended look at him in the Majors, leaving us uncertain about the player he will be at his peak.
In parts of three seasons at the MLB level, Cordero has appeared in just 79 games and made 273 scattered plate appearances. That’s still a decent amount of exposure for a 25-year-old, but when it comes in bits and pieces rather than extended stretches, it makes it especially difficult to draw conclusions about who Cordero really is and will be as a player.
That said, there’s no doubt that he boasts a rare combination of power and speed that makes him a tantalizing player. Per Statcast measurements, his sprint speed has ranked in the top 11% of MLBers in each of the last three years. That alone is pretty impressive for a player of Cordero’s stature (6’3″, 175 lbs.), but it’s even cooler when you consider that in 2018, Cordero’s average exit velocity was 92.6 mph, which equals the numbers put up by Matt Chapman and Jorge Soler last year (granted, Cordero did so with very few batted balls, so the usual sample size concerns apply).
Those tools are fun—that much is undeniable. The numbers above point to something special, and they’re indicative of the superlative talent that could make Cordero a premier player in his prime years. But there’s a big difference between being a premier player and merely possessing awesome talent; plenty of athletic outliers have failed to grow into productive Major Leaguers. If Cordero is to solidify himself as a reliable regular in the Majors, he’ll need to develop a more well-rounded game. For one thing, his approach at the plate still leaves something to be desired: his strikeout rate (38.8% for his career) remains too high, especially given his unspectacular walk rate (8.8% career).
That’s a ubiquitous challenge for young players, and it’s something that is often tempered with sustained exposure to MLB pitching. Plenty of players succeed with high strikeout rates—especially those with prodigious power like Cordero—so it won’t take a complete transformation of Cordero’s skillset to unlock his next level. I’d argue that it comes down mostly to opportunity, and a regular role could do wonders for his development.
The Padres’ outfield mix will be a little crowded as it is, with the additions of Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham likely representing two Opening Day starters. Cordero can certainly compete for the third spot, but he’ll have to overtake Wil Myers for the job. He probably fits best in right field, but has played plenty of center field in his career. Regardless, Cordero is firmly among the four best outfielders on the roster and should therefore have a path to more at-bats, assuming he’s healthy. Anyway, if the NL plays the 2020 season with a designated hitter, there should be ample opportunity to get Cordero’s bat in the lineup one way or another.
Whereas in previous years Cordero has been an intriguing, if still mysterious, piece on some fun Padres teams, he now has a chance to be a real contributor on a team that hopes to be taken more seriously. Without a doubt, he’s a player that deserves attention; we’ll eagerly watch this year to see whether a consistent role will allow Cordero to make adjustments that bring him a step closer to stardom. Don’t be surprised if Cordero’s name becomes more familiar to baseball fans.