College : : Story
Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Renfroe's magical rise up

Kendall Rogers        

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Mississippi State junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe is putting himself in a position to make his childhood dream become a reality.

Like many children growing up in Mississippi, Renfroe went through his childhood years dreaming of playing professional baseball, particularly for the Atlanta Braves. Renfroe and his friends would hit rocks on a gravel road around his hometown of Crystal Springs, Miss., miles south of Jackson, Miss.

For most, the dream of reaching the professional ranks and having success in that arena might seem like a pipe dream, but not for Renfroe. Though there have been plenty of questions about Renfroe's offensive abilities in past campaigns for the Bulldogs, the versatile outfielder is having the type of crusade this spring that has turned himself from a good prospect to one of elite status.

That dream of his never seemed so within reach.

"I'm not sure I've seen a guy like Hunter, who is this type of overall athlete, in college baseball in a long, long time," Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. "The big difference with him is that he's a big, physical guy who can really run. You could also put him behind home plate and he'd be popping 1.8 and 1.9's back there. It's just so rare to see that many tools in one guy.

"He has elite arm strength, he can run balls down in the outfield to any area, he can easily score on a gapper, and he can hit a home run," he continued. "That makes Hunter Renfroe pretty special."

 Hunter Renfroe profile
Pos: OF, with ability to play catcher
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-1, 216 lbs.
Pros: Speed, defense, great arm, power
Cons: One season of a consistent bat
Proj. Rd: First round

Renfroe has made quite an astonishing climb up the MLB draft boards so far this spring. The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder, entered the season potentially as a first-round pick. But with the production he's had at the plate, not only is he expected to be a first-rounder, he's even moved up to No. 13 in our latest Top 100 MLB draft prospects list.

The reason for the climb becomes much clearer when you factor in the campaign Renfroe is having this season versus some of the past.

Coming out of high school, Renfroe was ranked No. 550 overall, and was thought to perhaps be a pitcher at the collegiate level, topping out at 91 with his fastball. He also had the potential to play catcher, or, of course, in the outfield.

Renfroe struggled mightily as a freshman for the Bulldogs. Toolsy, but raw, Renfroe batted just .154 in 26 at bats in his first season. He also made six appearances on the mound, and like his ways at the plate, was inconsistent.

"He was an extremely raw athlete as a freshman for us," Cohen said. "But he was always one of those guys you watched and thought, you know, the more he plays, the better he's just going to get."

Renfroe made a climb his sophomore season with the Bulldogs, but again, dealt with some inconsistent tendencies. He often showed off his elite arm, running skills and overall skillset, but again, struggled offensively for much of the year, hitting .252 with four homers and 25 RBIs. He also had just a .328 on-base percentage.

In perhaps a sign of things to come, Renfroe actually finished the 2012 college baseball season on a high note, putting together a good offensive run at the SEC tournament, which the Bulldogs won to clinch an automatic berth to the NCAA postseason.

That finish catapulted Renfroe into a terrific showing last summer at the Cal Ripken League, where he easily earned top prospect honors and increased his overall draft prospect in the process.

"I worked constantly during the summer on getting my timing down at the plate. That was a big point in my game, just trying to see the ball well, hitting the ball and trying to go deep at times," Renfroe said. "It's basically all about timing. Once you get your timing down and weight on the back side and not jumping at the ball, it's easy for me to go out there and use my quick hands to hit the ball.

"I have pretty quick hands, and last year, I just seemed to jump at the ball a lot," Renfroe continued. "I wasn't letting the ball travel last year … I'm allowing it to travel this year."

Without even seeing Renfroe in person, it's easy to see his progressions by a quick glance at his set of statistics. For instance, Renfroe is hitting .429 this season with 12 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and 42 RBIs. He also has a fabulous .865 slugging percentage, .494 on-base percentage, and of course, is 8-for-11 in stolen bases.

Renfroe displayed all of his tools last weekend against Texas A&M. He seemed to have a slightly stockier frame, though, it didn't seem to hinder his speed or athleticism. He also flashed an elite arm in the outfield, though, the Aggies didn't test it much. He also showed elite defensive ability, particularly by way of his closing speed. Interestingly enough, some scouts even think Renfroe could be a fantastic catcher at the next level, flashing pop times of 1.70 and 1.75 last summer while competing in the Ripken League.

Everything you want in an elite player is there with Renfroe.

"He has really done a much better job of not swinging at bad breaking balls. Now, it seems like he just sits and waits on good breaking balls, and that has paid some dividends," he said. "He has a lot of mental strength, too. He's swinging it as well as anyone I've seen, but you know, baseball is a game that can humble you in a hurry.

"Even with that, you always think something special is going to happen when Renfroe steps to the plate. He's just a special athlete."

Renfroe is well on his way to making one of his childhood dreams a reality. Now, he just hopes to guide Mississippi State back to Omaha along the way.

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