Travis Jankowski or Manuel Margot? Padres Problems… Or Is It?

Credit: AP Photo

Credit: Baseball America
Credit: Baseball America

Travis Jankowski is on fire.

From July 31st until August 18th his batting average was a scorching .365 and his OBP was a Joey Votto-esque .444 on the year.

Until this hot steak it looked like more like Jankowski would just be a placeholder starter in center field until Manuel Margot gets called up from Triple-A. To be fair, Jankowski is riding a lucky and unsustainable BABIP of .379 for the whole season, which will drop sooner or later.

However, Jankowski’s line drive rate of 27%, and walk rate of 13.9% this season both show that he’s controlling the strike zone better and making solid contact. He’s made real growth at the plate, even if his stats are a bit inflated. For a guy that already brings value with his speed and center field defense, the ability to also get on base as a top of the batting order catalyst makes him a hard guy to bench.

Manuel Margot, though, is making it hard for the San Diego Padres to keep him in the minors at this point. Already polished defensively and able to make consistent contact at the plate, Margot hasn’t struggled to adjust against tougher competition after being promoted to Triple-A.

It is worth noting that he’s playing in a hitter friendly league, so it’s not surprising that his batting average and slugging percentage have seen a boost in the PCL. And while he still isn’t walking a lot, his strikeout rate has gone down from 12.8% in AA to 9.8% in Triple-A. He’s got the tools and track record to suggest he’ll be able to transition at the plate to major league pitching, once the Padres give him that chance. At that point they’ll have a good depth problem for once and a decision to make.

Jankowski or Margot?

Why not both?

The obvious answer is that both Margot and Jankowski are best suited for center field, and it’s never a bad thing to have depth up the middle. But let’s be real here, there just isn’t a lot of quality on the current Padres team. It might make sense for a team with better corner outfield options to keep either Margot or Jankowski on the bench as depth for defensive replacement or pinch hitter/runner options.

Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As good as Alex Dickerson has hit, his defense will always be limited. And sure Jabari Blash will run into a fastball every now and then and we’ll have the occasional #Blashtoff, but his contact rate is woeful, and he too is a limited defender. It’s not hard to make the case that Jankowski and Margot are already the best two outfielders at the Padres disposal.

Hunter Renfroe will have something to say about that, for sure, but more on him later. Whereas Jankowski doesn’t have the arm strength to fit a corner outfielder profile (and with his speed, why would you want him to), Margot’s arm strength gets a 50 grade on the 20-80 scale. He can handle left field. His offensive skill set doesn’t match the prototypical middle of the order masher that teams typically want their corner outfielders to be, but his strong defense and ability to make solid contact, as well as steal bases, would definitely be a nice addition to the top of the Padres batting order.

So if Jankowski is in center, and Margot is in left, who plays right? Margot’s El Paso teammate Hunter Renfroe is approaching a big league call up as well. I propose a Renfroe/Dickerson platoon to ease Renfroe into the bigs against the lefty pitchers he’s better against. He has a history of starting slow at new levels, and some scouts question whether he can make enough contact long term, so an easy introduction to the big leagues would be sensible.

When Renfroe is sitting against righties, I propose a defensive platoon with Dickerson moving to first, and Wil Myers going to right field, the position he played as the 2013 A.L. rookie of the year. The goal of all of this would be an outfield featuring Margot and Jankowski, and a top of the batting order looking something like 1)Jankowski 2)Margot 3) Solarte 4) Myers 5)Dickerson/Renfroe. That ain’t bad.

A better team might have mashing corner outfielders that anchor the batting lineup which would allow the Padres to use Jankowski or Margot as the starting center fielder, with the other being a 4th outfielder. A.J. Preller deserves some blame for not having this roster balanced a little better. At this stage of the rebuild, though, the goal is to find talent wherever it is, rather than finding the perfect balance. And besides, who was playing outfield for the Padres when Preller got here? Seth Smith and Will Venable?

I’d rather Jankowski and Margot.

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2 thoughts on “Travis Jankowski or Manuel Margot? Padres Problems… Or Is It?

  1. I think Renfroe will be handed the RF position and Dickerson will start next year as a backup 1B and corner OF. Renfroe may sit though against the tougher RH pitchers.

  2. I agree completely! This new era of Friar baseball has started to develop an identity built on sound and aggressive baserunning and solid defense. I say got all in with this strategy, and an outfield with margot, freddy, and renfroe is right in line with that. Having two center fielders with excellent range and a plus rf with a gun of an arm in the outfield would be amazing. Add freddy and margot causing chaos on the basepaths to setup myers and renfroe and possibly even a plus hitting catcher in hedges (if this break out sticks) and you have a scrappy, exciting and talented team to watch grow as a unit. Keep the Faith! Go Pads!

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