For a young player, this can be a motivating or debilitating factor, depending on the makeup of the player. For this first piece, Kyle Blanks is the player on the clock.
Blanks is a player who has the opportunity and potential to fill a huge void in a desperate area of need for the San Diego Padres: offensive production.
His minor league numbers are impressive: 2013 AB, .305/.392/.513 (.905 OPS). Here's a former Padre slugger's MiLB numbers for comparison: 2480 AB, .296/.365/.448...yep...Adrian Gonzalez...one of the game's premiere hitters. The thing is, I could rattle off a handful of other star players with similar or worse minor league numbers.
I guess the real question is...how do we know when a guy's minor league numbers will translate into the big leagues? I suppose if I had the answer to that question, I wouldn't be running a blog where 40 hits in one day is cause for celebration...ha!
To me, Blanks has all that is needed to become a superstar. He's got the build and the athleticism. He can crush the ball and play solid defense. Oh, and he runs well (notice, I didn't say: "...for a big guy."). He has the demeanor and the work ethic to realize all the potential he's been blessed with.
So far, however, the MLB numbers don't bear out: 420 AB, .219/.315/.424 (.739 OPS).
Why? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons; however, one that jumps out is his K%. In 2008, Blanks put up one of his best seasons in AA San Antonio. He hit .325 with 20 HR and 107 RBI in what many consider to be a pitcher-friendly league and stadium. It tends to be the proving ground for Padres minor league hitters. Even more impressive, to go along with the power, Blanks didn't swing and miss all too often. His K rate of 15.9% was a career-best.
Unfortunately, those numbers took a turn for the worse. In 2009, at AAA Portland, that rate jumped to 22.5%. To be followed by 32.0% after a call-up to San Diego. Not much improved in 2010 as Blanks worked his way back from the DL. His rate in Hi-A was 27.3% and then 25.0% in AAA. For the Padres, during that season, Blanks struck out a career-worst 38.3% of the time. That's Mark Reynolds territory (ML worst 42.3% in 2010)...which is fine if you're launching plenty of moonshots as well. Blanks was not.
Finally, 2011 didn't show much improvement, either, as he started out with a respectable 20.4% in AA, jumped to 24.3% in AAA, and then up again to 26.8% as a Padre. Granted, these numbers are not tremendously higher than league average, but the point here is that Blanks is at his best when his K-rate is down. Duh, right?
If it's that simple to identify a problem, why can't it be that simple to fix it? That's the 64,000 dollar question for me.
I'm sure there are a number of issues at play as to why a guy's K rate jumps over time. Better pitching is probably the number one reason. However, AA is typically a place where players make it or break it, and Blanks clearly destroyed it at that level against quality pitching prospects. Maybe it's the pressure of the Show. He knows the eyes are on him and the clock is ticking. Maybe it's the coaching. Are they more hands-off or more hands-on as you move up the levels?
Maybe it's the playing time. Blanks played consistently at three levels from 2006-2008: 308 AB at Ft. Wayne (Lo-A), 465 AB at Lake Elsinore (Hi-A), and 492 AB at San Antonio (AA). His K%'s were, respectively: 22.0%, 18.5%, and 15.9%. So, is the evidence suggesting that he may have been rushed, or does he simply need to be given a full season to showcase what he has?
I'd believe it's the latter. I'd like to see Blanks given the full-time, starting LF position (1B will work, too) from the season's get-go. Run him out there every day and let the results come. The club did this with Headley, and the results are paying off. The same is true with Maybin. Blanks can be that guy. Run him out there without the fear that he'll lose his job and judge from the results.
3...2...1...liftoff! (okay, that was cheese...at least I didn't say anything about "shooting Blanks"oooh...check that title!)