San Diego Padres: Freddy Can Fly

dcalkins
Sep 8, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres center fielder Travis Jankowski (16) advances to second on a passed ball during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 8, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Padres center fielder Travis Jankowski (16) advances to second on a passed ball during the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /
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Outfielder Travis Jankowski’s speed and defense are two assets the San Diego Padres will benefit from in 2017, no matter what role the 24-year-old plays.

Travis Jankowski, aka Freddy because he loved “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” provided some of the brightest moments in the frustrating Padres’ 2016 season. He regularly made highlight reel catches and actually stole home twice in one month (August).

While batters go into slumps and pitchers lose their release points, speed never sleeps. On the Society for American Baseball Research scale of 20-80, with 50 being average, Jankowski’s speed tool ranks a whopping 70.

Obviously, this speed tool allows him to make catches most fielders couldn’t reach and steal bases, but it also helps him beat out infield hits, get into the head of the opposing pitcher once he’s on base and go first to third or even home on a base hit.

Offense has always been easier to quantify than defense, but the sabermetrically-minded have been catching up. Statcast has developed a new metric called Catch Probability, which has been unveiled during the World Baseball Classic. The most improbable plays rank as Five-Star, and Adam Eaton and Ender Inciarte both made 10 last year.

Equally impressive, the 24-year-old made 36 percent of Five-Star plays possible, second only to Billy Hamilton’s 38 percent. Unfortunately, until last year the defensive wunderkind has been relegated to the bench. On opening day last year Melvin Upton Jr., Jon Jay and Matt Kemp started in the outfield with Jankowski and Rule-5 draftee Jabari Blash as extras.

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In 2015 Jankowski saw action in only 34 games, mostly as a pinch runner or defensive replacement in the outfield. For young rookies, such a roll can be particularly difficult and play havoc with hitting consistency. Jankowski’s offensive stats reflected that. However, last August, in his first opportunity to play regularly, he slashed .308/.374/.385.

On the negative side, Jankowski struck out 26 percent of the time. According to Fan Graphs though he never “struck out in more than 20% of his plate appearances in the minors. In fact, his highest strike out rate since 2014, 13.9%, came in a 39-plate appearance stint in low-A ball.” Obviously he has the ability to cut down on strikeouts, get on base more frequently and generally cause havoc.

Next: Spring Training Week 2 Recap

With Alex Dickerson hurt, Jankowski should start the season as a regular in the outfield. When Manuel Margot (also nursing an injury) joins him and Hunter Renfroe (who boasts prodigious power and a rocket arm), they’ll make a formidable and exciting trio.

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