SAN DIEGO -- Manuel Margot has played his way right back into the Padres' long-term plans.
Since taking over the starting job in center field on June 23, the righty-hitting speedster has posted a .260/.387/.519 slash line, and he ranks second among all Padres hitters in FanGraphs WAR.
And, oh yeah, Margot is still 24. It's easy to forget that fact, considering how many other prospects have arrived since his 2016 debut.
"You know, young guys are allowed to struggle," said first-base coach Skip Schumaker, who works with the team's baserunners and outfielders. "Some guys are young and have down years, and that's OK. The good news is: He works really hard every day to bounce back. And he's having a bounceback season. From the offseason to now, this is the player that we think he can be."
Two months ago, Margot's place in the organization seemed tenuous. The Padres mulled sending him to Triple-A. Now, they have a different conundrum on their hands: Where does he fit in the team's plans for the future, and how does the front office construct its outfield going forward?
Here are the three long-term possibilities for Margot with the Padres:
Manuel Margot, center fielder of the future
The Padres don't have a single position in the organization with more long-term question marks than center field. But if Margot can replicate his recent success, he'd go a long way toward making himself a potential answer.
"You ultimately want a center fielder who defends the field, can steal bases and gets on base," said Padres manager Andy Green. "That's what he's been over the last month. The challenge for him: Carry it out for the rest of the season."
That seems unlikely. Margot's due for some regression. But even then, he's shown some encouraging signs. Margot's 17.3 percent chase rate this month is easily the lowest of his career and well below his career 28.6 percent mark. He's hitting the ball harder, too, averaging an 89.9 mph exit velocity.
That has led to better peripheral numbers for Margot, too. His batting average and slugging percentage are up. So, too, are his expected batting average and expected slugging. That's an indication that his recent hot streak is no fluke.
Manuel Margot, platoon center fielder and bench weapon
Margot's most obvious flaw is his inability to hit right-handed pitching. Despite his recent success, that remains a challenge. Margot's 1.042 OPS against lefties is more than 400 points better than his .616 mark against righties.
Internally, however, the Padres might be thinking: "So what?"
Margot is 15-for-15 in steals this season, easily the most successful attempts by a big leaguer this season without being caught. It's a stark contrast to his 11-for-21 mark from a season ago.
"It's basically been a better knowledge of situations, knowing when to go, the opponent," Margot said. "It's really just about having more situational knowledge."
Additionally, even with limited playing time Margot has been worth five outs above average, according to Statcast. That ties him for 10th in the Majors.
It's possible Margot is simply an elite baserunner and defender -- one who rakes against lefties but struggles against righties. If so, he might fit the Padres' long-term plans as a fourth outfielder. Margot could start against lefties, while serving as a bench weapon most of the time.
Manuel Margot, trade bait
San Diego doesn't have another outfielder quite like Margot. But his unique skill set doesn't make him untouchable. The Padres have plenty of right-handed-hitting outfielders already. Ideally, they'd like their long-term center fielder to hit left-handed. They're currently scouring the trade market for exactly that.
Margot hasn't sustained his recent success long enough for other teams to be knocking down the Padres' doors in an effort to acquire him. But if he sustains his current level of play, he'll be in high demand this offseason.
"He can impact the game in so many different ways -- on the bases, and for me he's a Gold Glove center fielder," Schumaker said. "It's just a matter of him getting on base and being able to do it consistently."
Margot obviously has plenty of upside, and the Padres have other outfield options. That said, they generally aren't in the business of trading away young, controllable pieces.