Will Jabari Blash Smash or Crash in 2017?

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(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

It wasn’t so long ago that Jabari Blash was a hot topic among San Diego Padres fans and analysts.

On December 10, 2016, the Padres announced that they had acquired outfielder Blash from the Oakland Athletics as the player to be named later to complete their December 2, 2015 trade for infielder Yonder Alonso. It was part of the same trade that brought LHP Drew Pomeranz over to San Diego, where he eventually became an all-star.

From the moment that he arrived there was a lot of buzz around Blash. The conversation was centered around his great potential as an MLB power hitter. In 2015 he was in the Seattle Mariner’s organization, where he split time between double and triple-A. Between the two, he slashed .271/.370/.576 with 32 home runs and 81 RBI in 406 at-bats.

Along with coming off of a very productive season at the plate, Blash stands at 6’5″ and weighs 235 lbs., so envisioning him as the slugger of the future was no stretch of the imagination. He was not considered an excellent fielder and was known to have a high strikeout rate, but his power was appealing enough to make him the player to watch going into spring training.

On March 7, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote, “perhaps as much as any player in San Diego’s camp, Blash has been a source of springtime fascination.” Fellow spring-trainee, veteran infielder Skip Schumaker, even referred to Blash as a “Greek god” in a conversation with manager Andy Green. Blash didn’t hurt his case by showing off some of his power during games and in the cages.

There was an uphill battle for Blash to fight though with Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton Jr., and Jon Jay expected to be starters, and younger outfielders like Alex Dickerson and Travis Jankowski also competing for remaining spots. As a rule-5 pick, Blash had to be placed and remain on the 25-man roster all season long or end up being offered back to his original team, the Mariners.

Blash did eventually make the Padres 25-man opening day roster, but struggled early and was designated for assignment on May 13. He cleared waivers and the Mariners declined his return, allowing him to be outrighted to San Diego’s minor league system. In Triple-A with the El Paso Chihuahuas, Blash returned closer to form, slashing .260/.415/.514 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI in 177 at-bats. The Padres promoted him back up the major leagues on July 30, right after Matt Kemp was traded to the Atlanta Braves. Blash’s season ended in mid-August due to a middle finger strain, so his major league playing time was once again limited.

Credit: Fox Sports

With the Padres in 2016, Blash slashed .169/.298/.324 with 3 home runs in 71 at-bats. This was not so hot. The truth is that we’re looking at a small sample size, but even so, Blash had a 40.5 K percentage. That’s atrocious. Blash did offer a decent BB percentage at 13.1, which is slightly encouraging. It seems that his plate discipline is highly erratic. He didn’t do any damage to his status in the field by holding onto a 1.000 fielding percentage. Plain and simple, Blash didn’t produce the way the other outfield prospects Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Dickerson, and Jankowski did. That currently puts him behind the eight ball.

Blash’s middle finger finally healed up enough for him to play some winter-ball games in the Dominican Republic. That hasn’t really gone very well either. He has a .115 average in 26 at-bats with nine K’s. If this is the way he performs in spring training, he may end up making final roster decisions way too easy for Green and his staff.

Here’s my perspective on Blash in 2017:

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago regarding the debate to keep Margot with the Padres or send him down to triple-A in 2017 to protect service time. After letting the debate play itself out in response to my piece, I recognize that keeping him down for a small portion of the season is the logical thing to do if it will save a year of service time. If this is the eventuality, then I believe that the opening day outfield will carry Renfroe in right, Jankowski in center, and Dickerson and Blash platooning in left, with a stronger emphasis on Dickerson. I think in this case Christian Bethancourt will be a decent enough fifth outfield option, especially if rule-5 pick Luis Torrens stays on the roster as a second backup catcher. Blash will really be forced to prove himself in this scenario and outperform Dickerson because, barring a trade of some sort, he will surely be sent back to El Paso as soon as Margot returns to the Padres.

If the Padres choose to keep Margot in the majors, Blash will start the season in triple-A in all likelihood. Jankowski will shift over to left and play platoon partner to Dickerson. Blash is a much better fit as a triple-A depth piece right now and at some point it seems that’s where he will end up.

At the moment this is all speculation; trades, free-agent signings, and spring training performances can and will have an impact on final roster decisions. I find it somewhat of a shame that the Jabari Blash who inspired so much hope during spring training last season is now on the fringe, especially since he hasn’t played that many MLB games yet. I’m hoping, but not necessarily expecting, that an opportunity for him in 2017 will awake the “Greek god” and that his potential will come to fruition. As of right now, I see the 27-year-old Blash as the least of the five Padres outfielders.

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