The signing of veteran left-handed hitter Nick Martini has left Travis Jankowski on the outside looking in for playing time.
Early in spring training, Travis Jankowski broke his left wrist, and the healing time stretched far longer than expected. On the plus side, he could spend much more time with wife Lindsey and toddler Bentley, who was born last September on a day his father got three hits in four at-bats.
After the injury, Jankowski promptly had surgery, but six, then eight, then 10, then 12 weeks after the surgery, the bone had not healed. During that time, the new dad couldn’t even pick up his baby who had turned into a toddler. On the plus side, he couldn’t change a diaper either.
Thus the Padres opened the season without the services of an outfielder who plays all three positions capably, bats left-handed, and steals bases (including home). On August 6 the Padres finally brought Jankowski up from El Paso only to send him back down five days later. Then on September 1st, Jankowski (who has been in the Padres organization since he was drafted in 2012 in the first round as the 44thpick), rejoined the team as rosters expanded.
That good news for Jankowski, however, has been tempered by the fact that the front office has found the new flavor of the minute — Nick Martini. Martini’s utility is limited to playing left field and pinch-hitting, but he does get on base. It’s no secret that strike-zone discipline has been a perennial weakness for the Padres. This year the team ranks 24thin on-base percentage at .309.
Martini, initially drafted by the Cardinals 2011 but never called up, landed with the Oakland A’s in 2018. The 29-year-old batted .296 in 55 games, but the A’s (78-58, second place American League West, and in the hunt for a Wild Card berth) signed Robbie Grossman to fill the same role.
Martini became expendable, was designated for assignment, and the Padres snagged him. The team cited the need for a left-handed bat, apparently forgetting that Jankowski bats from the left side, while also ignoring the logjam in the outfield.
In a total of 63 games, Martini does have a higher on-base percentage at .386 than Jankowski’s .318. Martini’s BB rate of 11.0% and SO 19.8 represents an improvement over Jankowski’s stats of 9.6%, 23.7% respectively — but in 251 fewer games. Neither player has much in the way of power, but that’s hardly a significant need for this team.
When Manuel Margot needs a rest, Jankowski (5.7 UZR, 5.8 UZR/150) fills that need far better than Wil Myers (-5.3 UZR, -10.6 UZR/150). His speed factors in both his baserunning and outfield defense. Jankowski ranked in the top 10 in stolen bases in 2016 with 30 (8th) and 2018 with 24 (7th), fifth in Total Zone Runs as a center fielder in 2016, and fourth in Range Factor/9inn as an outfielder 2016 in the National League at 2.52 according to Baseball-Reference.
Furthermore, at this juncture, the Padres would benefit from playing Myers in left (his strongest position), in an attempt to increase his value on the trade market (which will be severely limited by a contract which will explode next year). The same could be said for giving Jankowski semi-regular playing time. Signing Martini has indicated the Padres have little regard for Jankowski, and his skill set could undoubtedly attract interest from other teams needing a fourth or even fifth outfielder with speed.
The speedy outfielder, nicknamed Freddy thanks to his interest in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a child, has been down this road before. He broke his foot early in the 2017 season, but Jose Pirela blocked his return. At the time, manager Andy Green admitted to Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune that “Travis is a superior defender to just about everyone in the game of baseball—not just the few guys here.”
Travis Jankowski makes the strongest case for himself. As he told Sanders in June, he can “provide that energy, that spark, that threat to steal a base, and make the pitchers worry more and then go out and track down everything in the outfield. If there’s a ball in the outfield, I’m not letting it hit the ground.”
Freddy demonstrated that value when he finally got to the plate in the ninth inning of the third game against the Giants and promptly singled. He took off and scored easily from first on a single by Manny Machado in the Padres’ 8-4 victory. His opportunities are sadly few and far between.