Jabari Blash has been the most talked about of the San Diego Padres this Spring, bar none. The man has legendary power. Today, the Padres announced that Blash, along with speedy center fielder Travis Jankowski, have made the Opening Day roster.
Padres fans, who have suffered through season after season without having a big bopper to get excited about, have naturally been drawn to Blash’s power. Heck, when I was in Peoria at Spring Training last week, Blash’s at-bats were the ones I most wanted to watch. And when he hit a 450-foot blasht that sailed way past the center field wall, the crowd got as excited as they would get the entire time I was there. Hey, chicks dig the long ball, right? (Readers under 25 should watch this to get the reference.)
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Jankowski brings different exciting element to the game: speed. The fleet 24-year old who stole 71 bases at Lake Elsinore in 2013 will bring his plus-plus speed in the outfield and on the basepaths in Petco Park. Can you say “late inning defensive replacement for Matt Kemp?” Can you say “pinch runner?”
Jankowski and Blash will be the fourth and fifth outfielders for the team. Kemp will start in right, Jon Jay in center, and Melvin Upton in left.
So, should we be excited about these young players and their exceptional skills making the squad?
In a word: not really.
Yes, that’s two words. Thank you.
Why wouldn’t we be excited about a guy with enough power to put dents high up on the Western Metal Building, to provide souvenirs for fans in the Park at the Park? Why wouldn’t we look forward to watching an outfielder run down balls that would be doubles or triples if slower men were chasing them down?
Because they are one-dimensional players. And teams that win the World Series don’t have this type of player on their major-league roster.
Let’s face it. Melvin Upton is a fringe major-league player. Although he rebounded to have a decent 200 ABs last year, he’s just one season removed from a two-year span in which he hit .198 over 910 ABs with an OPS+ of 66. Had he not signed a ridiculous contract, he’d likely have spent much of the last few seasons working out his hitting issues in the minor leagues. And Blash, despite his truly impressive power, might be a worse hitter than Upton. He strikes out about 30% of the time, and two years ago, he hit a combined .221 between AA and AAA.
The Padres had two choices with Blash, who came to the team in the Rule 5 draft: Put him on the major league roster, or return him to Seattle. In a season in which the Padres are being picked to finish fourth or fifth in the NL West, I suppose they can afford to take a chance to see if Blash will develop into something more than Bam Bam Meulens. And with a little roster manipulation based on Blash’s currently tweaked hamsting, as described in Keenan Morzek’s recent article, the team may get an opportunity to take a few weeks to look at Upton and see how the team will perform overall before ultimately deciding how much playing time to give Blash.
Jankowski is not as much of a risk as Blash. At 24 years old (compared to Blash’s 27), he has several more years to learn to hit major league pitching. And as a plus defender in Center Field, he can offer some value to the club while he is trying to make the transition from hitting in the minor leagues to facing Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Madison Bumgarner 10 times a year. Jankowski looked lost at the plate last year, getting on base less than 25% of the time. While he may develop into a player that a pennant contender would have on their roster, he is not there yet.
So, feel free to be excited to see these players given a chance to succeed at the major league level. But make no mistake – these are not the moves of a team planning to win the World Series. These are the moves of a rebuilding team.