Much has been written about the traffic jam in the Padres’ outfield. However, when the Seattle Mariners and other teams expressed interest in Travis Jankowski earlier this year, the team decided to keep the speedy outfielder. Obviously this offseason, general manager A.J. Preller and company will need to address a situation that will become even more complicated when Franchy Cordero returns from the disabled list.
The Padres first called Jankowski up in 2015, and he played in 34 games. Drafted by Padres in the supplemental first round in 2012 at 44, he had his best season in 2016. He appeared in 131 games and batted .245/.332/.313/.646. The following year, a fractured foot limited his playing time to 27 games.
This year, Jankowski started the season with the El Paso Chihuahuas rather than the big club. But in late April, the Padres promoted him after Wil Myers went on the disabled list with an oblique injury.
As the year progressed, however, Jankowski became the odd man out. He had received playing time against right-handed pitchers, but by the end of the year, even those starts dwindled.
Measured by sprint speed, Jankowski ranks 26thin all of baseball at 29.0 feet per second. That speed yielded 30 stolen bases in 2016 (8thin all of baseball) and 24 in only 117 games this year (7thin MLB). He rates 4.5 BRR (a measurement grading base running, including stolen bases and advancing on base paths) according to Baseball Prospectus, 9thbest in MLB.
While batters can go into slumps during a long season, speed never takes a day off. During the playoffs, fleet-footed players like Lorenzo Cain of the Milwaukee Brewers have shown the advantage of superior speed on both sides of the ball. Cain robbed David Freese of a two-run home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game 4 of the ALCS, Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox made a 5-star catch (only a 21 percent catch probability according to Statcast) at a crucial time.
With his long locks flowing, Jankowski has made similar diving catches. Early this season in a game against the San Francisco Giants, he laid out and stole an extra-base hit from Evan Longoria.
Thanks to Jankowski’s speed and inner navigating system, he ranked 4thin Range Factor/9Inn as a center fielder in 2016. That year he was responsible for 8 DRS (defensive runs saved) and had a UZR/150 of 8.9.
Although regular center fielder Manuel Margot may be a tick better in the speed department, Jankowski can play all three outfield positions, not just adequately, but quite well. That kind of versatility comes in handy when making up the lineup card, giving other outfielders a rest, or trying to preserve a lead late in a game.
When Jankowski started the season in the minors, he spent about three days ticked off, and then turned his mind to making the necessary adjustments to return to San Diego. He praised Morgan Burkhart, the El Paso hitting coach for helping him simplify his swing. His K% dropped from 32.2% in 2017 to 18.9% this year.
Jankowski’s batting line of .259/.332/.321/.640 shows his definite lack of pop. However, he led the team in stolen bases with 24 and came in third in batting average, on-base percentage, and number of walks.
In manager Andy Green’s search for a leadoff hitter, shortstop Freddy Galvis performed well ( .321 average and .349 OBP in 81 appearances). But Galvis doesn’t have the speed to create havoc on the bases. In 153 plate appearances in the leadoff spot, Margot batted .183 .210/.307/.517, while Jankowski batted .261/.340/.348/.688 in 276 plate appearances.
Jankowski always hustles, a quality which fans admire. The front office should consider keeping him around. His work in the minor leagues at the beginning of the season also demonstrates his ability to make the necessary adjustments.
As a base runner, he doesn’t just have the requisite speed, he uses his head, improving his chances of stealing a base or going first to third on a hit. He’s even stolen home. By comparison, Margot appears lost on the base paths.
Plus, he has very cool hair.
Lack of Power
Jankowski has never hit for power at any level. This year he hit four home runs. However, his speed can turn singles into doubles, sometimes even triples.
Traffic Jam in Outfield
This offseason, the Padres will face many tough decisions, one being the plethora of outfielders including Jankowski, Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Wil Myers, and rookie Franmil Reyes. And don’t forget about Franchy Cordero, who played in only 40 games because of a bone chip in his right elbow this year. However, he had surgery and should be ready for spring training. Further complicating the situation, catcher Francisco Mejia can also play the outfield.
Cordero has both power and speed, as well as a strong arm. Signed as an international free agent in 2011, he was first promoted in May last year. In a total of 70 games with the Padres, he batted .234/.295/.433/.746 with 10 home runs and 99 strikeouts. Cordero obviously has a problem with strikeouts, but an even worse problem with the defense. In 2018, his cringe-worthy -6 DRS and -54.2 UZR/150 highlighted his defensive shortcomings.
Although probably not on a par with Preller’s first offseason, this hot stove league should be particularly interesting. We can assume that at least one, and possibly more outfielders will become trade bait. The Padres may finally pull the trigger and let Jankowski go.
However, if he remains on the team, Jankowski remains the best option by far as the fourth outfielder. He can start, pinch run, and enter games as a defensive replacement in close games.
Margot (.245/.292/.384/.675) and Jankowski (.259/.332/.346/.678) had remarkably similar batting stats this year, and both play excellent defense. Odds are, however, that Margot will again be appointed the center fielder. He’s younger, a product of the current front office, and probably has a higher ceiling.