Often times State fans hear about an incoming recruit that should be a great one. Or we hear the stories of how a guy is tearing it up in fall ball, and should be a lock for All-American in the spring. But just as often as we've heard these stories, we've been disappointed with the results. In retrospect, we probably wouldn't be disappointed with a player's performance had we not hyped them up beyond all realistic level, but we do that from time to time, as can happen when you are a fan.
I remember from day one that Hunter Renfroe came to Starkville, he was heralded as a potential star. A diamond in the rough was the term used, as he was a multi-tool kid, the prototypical pitcher/catcher/outfielder/slugger from a small academy just south of Jackson. Hunter had the talent, but would it translate to the field and at the plate? With a cannon for an arm and bountiful pop in his bat, he had to be a sure thing, right?
That wasn't the case for Renfroe for awhile though, as he struggled a bit in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. As a freshman, Renfroe hit .154 in limited at-bats, working in a plate appearance here and there. It wasn't fair to judge him on such a small body of work, sure, but I'd dare say that we all hoped to see a bit more out of him in his inaugural season in maroon and white. Still, he was rough around the edges yet, and another year of experience under his belt should make for a solid sophomore season.
In 2012, Renfroe's sophomore campaign, he improved his numbers greatly, hitting .252 with four home runs and 25 RBI's. But still, you felt like there was something more there. Hunter had improved, but there was a sense among Bulldog fans that he was capable of so much more than what we were seeing. Add to that the fact that he struck out 51 times, and you just felt like there was another level that could be reached by Renfroe. It's always frustrating to watch a talented player not quite reach his full potential. We're frustrated as fans because we want the most out of guys so that we can win more games, but we also want the most for these players because we want to see them succeed to the best of their abilities. After the 2012 season, we still had not reached that level with Hunter. Would we ever? Only time would tell.
photo courtesy Mississippi State University | HailState.com
Summer 2012 came, and with it came the disbursement of college players all across the country to summer leagues from Cape Cod to the west coast. Renfroe took part in the Cal Ripken League playing for the Bethesda Big Train. All Hunter would do there last summer was get the attention of every pro scout nation-wide, as he led the talent-rich summer league in home runs (16), and RBI's (53), while finishing fifth in batting average, hitting at a .366 clip. Renfroe's strikeouts were also way down, as he was nowhere near the league's lead for K's.
Would that success in a wooden-bat summer league translate to the SEC? Could Hunter finally put it all together and become the dominant player everyone knew him capable of being?
The answer to that question in 2013, quite resoundingly, has been yes. Hunter Renfroe, after two somewhat frustrating years, has come full bloom, proving to all who have taken notice that his productivity on the field can, in fact, match the talent that everyone knew was there all along. Renfroe has hit at a torrid pace this year, batting at a .381 average, while hitting 15 HR's (SEC league lead) and 51 RBI (3rd in SEC). He has struck out just 31 times in 55 games. That's nearly a reduction of 17 strikeouts over the course of the season from last year. What's more, he is tied (Brett Pirtle) for the team lead in stolen bases with nine and has a staggering .475 on-base percentage. Sure, State has seen its share recently of good hitters. There have been your Jeffrey Rea's, your Adam Frazier's. State has had its share of power guys, although none in awhile have vied for any national attention in the power category. So what is so impressive about Renfroe's season is his ability to do both -- to hit for well-above average, and to hit for power. Those 15 home runs and 51 RBI have also come with many pitching coaches electing to pitch around him.
In 1984, one of the best seasons to date in MSU baseball history, Rafael Palmeiro set the standard by which all Bulldog sluggers would be judged from there forward. Palmeiro's numbers that season were nothing short of eye-popping - he hit .415 with 29 HR's, 94 RBI's, and 98 hits. Although Bruce Castoria's 98 RBI's in 1981 are still the record at MSU, Palmeiro did it while hitting above .400 -- something that only three Bulldogs (Will Clark, Brian Wiese, Travis Chapman) have done since Raffy did it in 1984. And although there have been numerous talented sluggers to come along since Palmeiro -- guys like Richard Lee, Brian Wiese, Brad Corley, and Connor Powers -- arguably none in recent years have been as complete of a player as Renfroe. We haven't even talked about the fact that he has a cannon for an arm, and a ton of speed on the base paths.
But where would Hunter's 2013 projected season put him among the other great seasons in MSU baseball history? Should Hunter's year play out as expected, here's how it would shake out in comparison to other great individual efforts in our school's baseball history:
|Rafael Palmeiro (1984)||.415||98||29||94|
|Will Clark (1985)||.420||94||25||77|
|Brian Weise (1998)||.412||103||14||57|
|Hunter Renfroe (projected, 2013)||.390||80||18||60|
You can also argue that Renfroe's season comes with an asterisk, but the good kind, not the Barry Bonds type of asterisk. Renfroe plays in today's game when the pop in bats has been greatly reduced from the days in the late 90's when the home run was king. Can you imagine, State fans, what Renfroe could have done on that 1998 team? Teams during the late 90's -- led by LSU, who hit approximately 1,546,010 home runs over the back half of the 1990 decade -- were hitting home runs at an almost alarming rate, and I just can't help but wonder what Renfroe could have done with the old TPX or Easton's that produced "gorilla ball" all across the country.
But alas, Hunter didn't play in that time. He plays in 2013, and although there may be some disadvantages for sluggers playing in today's game, make no mistake, Hunter Renfroe has still left his mark on MSU baseball's history books. I hope that State fans have enjoyed watching Renfroe play this season -- he is a likely first round draft selection in this June's MLB draft. It's fun to see a player with the talent Renfroe has fully-develop, and I believe that's what we've seen this year, as Renfroe has been the most consistent and dangerous threat for this 38-15 team's lineup. Here's to hoping that Hunter's season finishes up the way it has started, and that he can help take this team as far as Raffy and Will did when they were tearing the cover off the ball back in the 80's.