Power drought snapped, Renfroe leading Bulldogs
Padres' top pick has produced all postseason, even through homerless streak
OMAHA, Neb. -- The power has been, well, lacking here at TD Ameritrade Park.
Only three balls have cleared the fence through 12 games of the College World Series, leaving one player to quip earlier in the week he was "dumb" for thinking a ball he hit had a chance to so.
Home runs have been hard to come by for everyone, including Mississippi State right fielder Hunter Renfroe -- who the Padres liked enough to pick 13th overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Renfroe finally conquered TD Ameritrade Park on Friday afternoon, launching a 3-1 curveball from Oregon State's Andrew Moore into the left-field bullpen. The three-run homer was the difference in a 4-1 Mississippi State victory that clinched the Bulldogs a berth in the College World Series finals against UCLA beginning Monday.
"[Moore] left it up and Renfroe's a first-round Draft pick and made him pay," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said.
Renfroe's blast also ended his 91 at-bat homerless drought.
"It's a relief," Renfroe admitted.
Although Renfroe said he was glad to finally hit a homer, he added that his lack of power has been intentional. The ballparks he and the Bulldogs have played in during the postseason have been big, so Renfroe decided there was no need to try to hit the long ball.
The strategy is working -- Renfroe has a .368/.400/.553 slash line with four doubles and 11 RBIs this postseason. The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder is still doing his job -- he's just doing it differently. Plus, his adjustment is a big reason Mississippi State is headed to its first College World Series final.
"Here, the wind's always going to be blowing in ... and it's a line-drive, ground-ball mentality at the plate," Renfroe said. "You've got to have that or you're not going to succeed all the time."
It's a similar approach Renfroe might one day implement at spacious Petco Park. Renfroe's ability and willingness to sacrifice power for average surely comes as no surprise to the Padres. In fact, San Diego scout Andrew Salvo recognized Renfroe's various tools the first time he saw Renfroe.
"Before the game, he was crushing balls all over the place," Salvo said. "Then he goes out to run, and he runs well. And he's got a cannon for an arm in the outfield. Then he [throws] 93-94 [mph] out of the bullpen. It was like something out of 'The Natural.'"
College baseball's BBCOR bats -- which act more like wooden bats than past aluminum models -- coupled with TD Ameritrade Park's deep fences and in-your-face winds, have made it appear all but impossible to hit a home run here this year. Renfroe bucked the trend Friday. His fifth-inning homer actually was his second of the day, following one during pregame batting practice.
That batting-practice homer was nothing special for those who have watched Renfroe. In fact, his blasts at Creighton University -- where the Bulldogs have practiced this week -- have cleared trees and dented cars.
The 21-year-old was asked Friday if those sessions at Creighton are more like his regular batting practice; if he generally hits three, four or even five homers in a row.
"Yeah," he replied nonchalantly, "I usually do that."
Power, it appears, just comes naturally to Renfroe -- even when he's not trying.