With the first game of the season 17 days away, the Padres still have multiple difficult decisions to make regarding starting and relief pitching, as well as the composition of the infield and outfield. For the latter, Travis Jankowski has made a strong case to be included on the roster as a reserve thanks to his play this spring as well as his history when he has been healthy.
The acquisition of first baseman Eric Hosmer has had a domino effect all over the baseball diamond, with Wil Myers moving from first to the outfield. Hunter Renfroe, banished from right by Myers, needs a position unless the team has given up on him. A platoon with Jose Pirela, who played 68 games in left last year, looks likely.
Hard-luck Alex Dickerson would have been in the mix, but he hasn’t been able to play due to an elbow injury. He lost all of last year to a back injury and subsequent surgery. An oblique injury has sidelined Matt Szczur most of the spring. He played 104 games in the outfield in 2017, but, barring a miracle, he will not be ready to start the season with the big league club.
That leaves Franchy Cordero to compete for the spot with Jankowski. Cordero has a rare blend of speed and power, which he displayed in 30 games with the Padres last year. He batted .228/.276/.424 with three home runs, three triples, and three doubles.
Thanks to a fractured foot, Jankowski played in only 27 games last season. In 2016 he played in 131 games, filling in for an injured Jon Jay, but also acting as a replacement outfielder in the late innings as well as a pinch runner. That year he batted .245/.332/.313 and stole 30 bases. In August in PNC Park, he engineered a straight steal of home against the Pirates.
Jankowski started spring training in a bit of a funk, but has recently caught fire and has a .259/.375/.593 batting line. He surprised everyone, including manager Andy Green by belting two home runs in Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Indians. He also hit one inside-the-park home run, thanks to his speed.
So far this spring, Cordero has the better batting line at .344/.447/.688, and he comes close to matching Jankowski’s speed. According to Statcast, Billy Hamilton’s 30.1 sprint speed makes him the fastest player in the game. Jankowski comes close to that and matches Margot at 29.3, with Cordero close behind at 29.5 (the average being 28.2). That speed helps cover the outfield, turns a bunt into a base hit, and generally drives pitchers nuts.
Both can play left, right, or center, a valuable asset for any team. Digging deeper, Jankowski has a career 16.3 UZR/150 to Cordero’s 10.6. Obviously, both play above average defense.
Cordero’s power does set him apart. However, last year he struck out 44.4 percent of the time he stepped into the batter’s box, thereby giving away almost half of his at-bats. FanGraphs rates a K% of 27.5 percent awful, while 44.4 percent doesn’t even rate a mention.
Although his spring training performance indicates he’s increased his plate discipline, Cordero could use a little more time in the minors to work further improvement. He’s only 22 and has spent just 93 games in El Paso.
In the meantime, the Padres could give Jankowski a chance to show off his speed in the outfield and on the base paths. He became a fan favorite in 2016 and could rekindle that spark with the home crowd thanks to his style of play.