Hedges, Margot, Renfroe lead El Paso into '16 season

Hedges, Margot, Renfroe lead El Paso into '16 season

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Because he played most of last season with the Padres, Austin Hedges is no longer considered a prospect.

But the catcher is one of seven young players opening the season with Triple-A El Paso on Thursday night who could figure into the Padres' plan this season.

Six of the Padres' top prospects, plus Hedges and left-handed starting pitcher Robbie Erlin, are opening the season as Chihuahuas as El Paso begins defense of its Pacific Coast League Pacific Southern Division title Thursday night at Reno.

Besides Hedges, the key player at El Paso is center fielder Manuel Margot, who is considered the top prospect in the Padres' Minor League system.

Other prospects on El Paso are corner outfielders Hunter Renfroe (No. 3) and Alex Dickerson (No. 25), infielder Carlos Asuaje (No. 15) and right-handed relief pitchers Tayron Guerrero (No. 15) and Cory Mazzoni (No. 18).

Hedges, 23, the Padres' second-round Draft pick in 2011, opened the 2015 season in El Paso and hit .324 with two homers and 15 homers in 21 games before he was promoted to the Padres for the rest of the season on May 4. Hedges hit .168 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 137 at-bats with the Padres last season.

Margot, 21, who was acquired by the Padres last Nov. 13 in the trade that sent closer Craig Kimbrel to Boston, moved from Class A to Double-A last season and hit .271 at the higher level.

Both Dickerson and Renfroe were instrumental in the Chihuahuas' late-season run to a division title last year.

Renfroe, 24, the Padres first-round pick (13th overall) in the 2013 draft, hit .333 with six homers and 24 RBIs in 21 games at the end of last season with El Paso. Earlier, Renfroe hit .259 with 14 homers and 54 RBIs in 112 games for Double-A San Antonio.

Dickerson, 25, was the Pacific Coast League's Rookie of the Year last season, hitting .307 with 12 homers and 71 RBIs in 125 games. Dickerson was also named to the PCL's postseason All-Star team.

Asuaje, who also came from the Red Sox in the Kimbrel trade, will be joined by four players -- Alexi Amarista, Jemile Weeks, Nick Noonan and Mike Olt -- with Major League experience in the Chihuahuas' infield. Amarista and Weeks were among the Padres final cuts in spring training, losing the final utility spot on the Major League roster to Adam Rosales.

Erlin, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Hancock, Carlos Pimental and Daniel McCutchen figure to lead the El Paso rotation.

Erlin, 25, was 7-6 with a 5.60 ERA in 24 starts for El Paso last season. Hancock, 25, was 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in two starts with El Paso after going 7-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 24 starts for San Antonio. Mccutchen, 33, was 9-8 with a 3.22 ERA in 32 games (22 starts) with El Paso. Pimental, 26, was 12-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 26 starts for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2015.

The El Paso bullpen will be led by Guerrero, Mazzoni, Leonel Campos and Frank Garces.

The Chihuahuas will again be managed by former Major League catcher Rod Barajas, who led El Paso to its first division title last season after taking over as the manager in June.

Bronswell Patrick will be the Chihuahuas' pitching coach for a third season. Morgan Burkhart is starting his first season as El Paso's hitting coach. Patrick is entering his ninth season as a coach in the Padres' organization while Burkhart is starting his fourth.

The Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas' Opening Day roster:

Right-handed pitchers (9): Leonel Campos, Jose Dominguez, Derek Eitel, Tayron Guerrero, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Hancock, Cory Mazzoni, Daniel McCutchen and Carlos Pimental.

Left-handed pitchers (4): Robbie Erlin, Frank Garces, Michael Kirkman and Daniel Moskos.

Catchers (2): Jason Hagerty (S) and Austin Hedges.

Infielders (6): Alexi Amarista (L), Carlos Asuaje (L), Nick Noonan (L), Mike Olt, Ryan Schimpf (L) and Jemile Weeks (S).

Outfielders (4): Alex Dickerson (L), Manny Margot, Jose Pirela and Hunter Renfroe.