Is Travis Jankowski the Permanent Answer in Left Field?

Credit: AP Photo

Major League Baseball scouts look at a variety of factors when evaluating a player.

The tangibles when evaluating a young player include the obvious; the hit tool and hitting for power, as well as the run, catch, and throw tools are the standard.

But what about the intangibles and what many refer to as the “eye test”, which many times come into play in evaluation? Manuel Margot might not pass the eye test off the field if you see him strolling down the Gaslamp Quarter, but on the field, it is a different story. Watch a full nine-inning game and Margot passes that test, with a keen knack for getting on base and an at times violent line drive swing in which he makes consistent contact.

The speed tool is clearly there, as evidenced by his ability to take an extra base, run down a well-hit ball in the gap and, so far to a lesser extent, his ability to steal bases. Margot to this point has all but solidified his chances at being the long-term answer for the Padres in center field, being a four-tool player, with power still yet to develop.

Prior to Margot’s arrival to the Padres’ organization, it appeared that Travis Jankowski had the inside track to be the guy in center. But Margot’s performance in the spring and the early going of the 2017 season has pushed Jankowski to left field. And due to the nagging back injury to incumbent left fielder Alex Dickerson and the inability of power-hitting Jabari Blash to prove himself on the major league level, that is where Jankowski finds himself… at the moment. A quick look at Jankowski’s numbers in his brief big league career and you will find some concerning things that stand out, perhaps tightening the leash on the young left fielder.

Yes, we are only about 1/8 of the way into the season, but Jankowski’s big league career now spans 182 games and 530 official at bats going into the Padres’ showdown Monday night in Arizona– roughly one full major league season. In those 530 plate appearances (475 official AB’s plus walks and HBP’s), Jankowski owns just a .229 lifetime batting average with an alarming 145 strikeouts, a 27% K rate. For a top of the lineup hitter with very little power, making contact at a better clip would surely do Travis some good.

Credit: AP Photo

Jankowski certainly provides more benefits than at the plate however, as demonstrated by his career 12 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and his smooth athleticism in the outfield. His ability to get to balls in the field and make them look routine is excellent. Compare that to former Friar, Matt Kemp, who routinely struggled to make plays in the field, especially plays that involved him picking up and putting down his cement-like feet. But in Petco Park, the left field position is less demanding than the expansive center and right field real estate, which puts a bit more demand on the offensive side of the game. On pace for around 200 strikeouts and the anticipation of maybe 4-5 home runs, and so far a struggling .160 average (with no homers, no RBI and only one extra base hit this season), Jankowski could be in line for a 4th outfielder job if his offensive performance does not pick up. Jankowski currently owns an offensive WAR of -4 in the early going this season with an overall WAR of 0.

He is currently on the D.L. with a foot injury suffered in Atlanta last week. The bone bruise shouldn’t keep him out long.

If Jankowski continues to struggle this season, look for the following potential options to get a crack at taking the job away at some point in 2017 (some already have):

Jabari Blash – As previously mentioned, Blash has been unable to prove he can hit above the Triple-A level. In a hitter-friendly park in El Paso, Blash has hit .256 over the last season plus, with 13 home runs in 71 games entering Monday. The power numbers are intriguing, but with the potential offense Blash could provide, there certainly would be a dropoff defensively. He was recalled on Monday and homered on Tuesday. The power is there, but there are holes in his game.

Alex DickersonDickerson was expected by many to be the Padres’ opening day left fielder this season, but a back injury put him on the shelf indefinitely. Dickerson, a Poway native, owns a lifetime .257 average and 10 homers in 95 big league games, and has little left to prove at the minor league level. If Dickerson can get and stay healthy, he would likely push Jankowski to a fourth outfielder role.

Franchy Cordero – Cordero’s numbers in the spring didn’t exactly knock anyone’s socks off, but the talk was that the young converted shortstop, now playing center field in El Paso, had solid at bats and impressed the organization in minor league games. So far Cordero is only hitting .197 in Triple-A, but has four home runs in his first 15 games. He will likely need a bit more seasoning before the Padres are ready to add him to the 25-man roster, but being on the 40-man roster helps his chances at getting at least a look, but perhaps not until rosters are expanded in September.

Ryan Schimpf/Cory Spangenberg – Schimpf is struggling so far this season, but has exhibited an acute eye at the plate, drawing 15 walks so far in just 18 games, currently 2nd in the major leagues. He did make two cameos in the outfield last season, one at both corner outfield spots. The reason for a potential move to the outfield is less Ryan Schimpf and more Cory Spangenberg, as the young lefty has come out of the gates hot in El Paso, hitting .371 in the early going. If the Padres were to make a change, one of the two could slide to left field for an audition. Spangenberg has been recalled and looks to be at least in line for split starts at third and the outfield. His ability to get on base and use his speed could be enticing to Andy Green.

Other potential options: Allen Cordoba, Collin Cowgill, Nick Buss, Jose Pirela

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