Where Does Travis Jankowski’s Future with the Padres Lie?

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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The San Diego Padres’ 2017 September call ups have arrived.

There really weren’t too many surprising moves made as the team brought up a handful of players from triple-A El Paso, once their season had ended. Notable call ups have included infielder Carlos Villanueva, catcher Rocky Gale, pitcher Tim Melville, and unsurprisingly, outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Along with the aforementioned players, came a curious addition/ omission scenario.The Padres finally chose to bring outfielder Travis Jankowski back up with the major league roster after he had spent a large portion of the season on the disabled list and in El Paso. This move is not as surprising as the fact that the team did not choose to invite fellow outfielder Franchy Cordero to join them as well.

What gives?

Cordero had his struggles during his stint on the Padres this season from May to July (like striking out 44 percent of the time), but it seemed reasonable to expect that he would be given another look come September. He slashed .228/.276/.424 with three home runs and a BABIP of .400 in 99 plate appearances. He put together a 1.2 UZR and 2 DRS. His defense was definitely serviceable. On top of that, he has been ranked as the ninth fastest runner in all of MLB in 2017, sprinting 29 feet per second according to Baseball Savant. For the rest of the season in triple-A, he tore it up, batting .326/.369/.603, swiping 15 bags and holding a wRC+ of 146. It would seem that the Padres still consider him a top prospect, surely the closest to MLB ready. So why would he be left off the team in September?

Jankowski has a sort of similar profile to Cordero. He’s a fast, solid defensive outfielder, who bats left-handed and throws right handed. The team currently has seven players on the depth chart that are capable of playing the outfield. The obvious answer to the question of why Cordero isn’t on the Padres, is that the team is full and someone had to be left out. But if it comes down to Cordero versus Jankowski, then why Cordero? I have a few theories that will lead me into where I think both players’ futures with the team lie.

Jankowski was supposed to become a valuable player. At this time last season, the Padres were thinking that he was going to be a top of the lineup, everyday outfielder by now. During the 2016-17 offseason there was a bit of trade buzz around him, some were likening him to a young Adam Eaton type. A poor start to the season and injury took the wind out that sail, and now Jankowski is on a much shorter leash than originally expected. It’s not even clear whether he is a major leaguer at all.

Credit: USA Today Sports

The hype was built on Jankowski’s 2016 season during which he stole 30 bases and finished with a UZR of 12.8, 8 DRS and a WAR of 2.1. His hitting was still a work in progress as he slashed .245/.332/.313, but his speed on the base path and in the outfield, along with his solid glove work stirred up some excitement among Padres fans. In hindsight, it seems that we should have tempered our expectations on Jankowski, but it was hard to do so prior to this season. Remember, at this time last year we didn’t know how amazing our system was just yet. Now we do, so we there’s no need to overvalue our players anymore.

Jankowski’s 2017 season started out rough. He slashed a pathetic .145/.242/.164 in 64 plate appearances. He was placed on the DL in April and remained there until August. When he was activated on August 4, he was promptly optioned to El Paso. In El Paso, he seemed to underperform, slashing .266/.350/.317 in 157 plate appearances. He did swipe eight bases, but the batting numbers are atrocious in the Pacific Coast league. And now he’s up with the Padres, presumably to redeem himself, and hopefully to reinvigorate at least a semblance of his trade value.

Here’s the deal. Jankowski is no spring chicken. He is 26 years old and his value has taken a dive. It’s not actually clear yet whether he’s just had bad luck this season, or if he just really isn’t a major leaguer after all. The Padres really are doing the prudent thing in bringing him up at the end of this season and seeing if he can make a statement. At his age, and with the talent in the minors creeping up behind him, this is one of his final opportunities.

Again, his trade value is low, so attempting to increase it right now by giving him extra playing time makes sense. He could be a trade piece in the offseason, maybe part of a package?

It’s conceivable that the Padres do try to hold onto him. Maybe they will find themselves in a situation where trading one of their other outfielders with higher value makes sense. Consider the possibility of a Renfroe, Cordero or Jose Pirela trade? Jankowski may be given an increased opportunity to earn his seat at the table back. There is still hope surrounding Jankowski, I don’t think that he’s at Jabari Blash’s status just yet.

Cordero, on the other hand, seems to have all of his potential in front of him. At this point, he is a lot like Jankowski, but at 23, younger and better. He seems to be a faster runner, a better hitter and a slightly better fielder. I think that he’s not on the Padres right now because they know that they like him and they feel that they don’t need to test him much more at the moment.

While I am exploring this rationale, it still doesn’t really sit right with me. I don’t really understand why the team would just hold off on giving a player like Cordero some extra playing time for the sake of development, especially with the way he finished his season in El Paso. The fact that roster space is not a limitation makes it even harder to understand.

I think that Cordero is part of the Padres’ long term plans. I can see him being a fourth outfielder and if he really catches fire a potential starter on a good Padres team. I think the Padres value him in this way. I believe that they are uncertain about Jankowski at this point. I think they were pondering his ceiling a year ago, and now they are questioning if he has value at all. For the record, I like Jankowski but this team is moving on up and he needs to force his way back onto the elevator.

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