At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, Kyle Blanks looks like he would be more comfortable protecting Philip Rivers’ blind side than patrolling the outfield at Petco Park.
The right-handed hitting behemoth has a bat that’s big league ready, but his future position in San Diego depends upon whether Adrian Gonzalez (owed just $4.75 million in 2010, with a “duuuh” $5.5M option for 2011) remains Padres property. Blanks appeared in the outfield in just two rookie ball games prior to 2009. But he saw time in the outfield corners this past year in an effort to get his lumber in the same lineup as Gonzalez.
A 42nd round pick in the 2004 draft, Blanks was a draft-and-follow selection who eventually inked for $260,000. Scouts got few looks at him during his prep career in New Mexico, but the Padres were impressed with his work at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona.
Blanks wasted no time in showcasing his intriguing blend of patience, power and contact ability. In 200 plate appearances in the rookie level Arizona League in 2005, he hit .299/.420/.500. Baseball America said that Blanks had the best power in the organization, but also cautioned that “his approach at the plate is single minded-every swing is designed to hit the ball a mile.”
In 2006, Blanks batted .292/.382/.455 in 359 PA in the Low-A Midwest League. He drew a walk in 10 percent of his plate appearances, while punching out 22 percent of the time. Unfortunately, a leg infection ended his season in July. During the lay-off, Blanks ballooned to nearly 300 pounds. Baseball America dropped him from the 15th-best prospect in the Padres’ system to 29th, claiming that he needed “a big power year in high Class-A to re-establish himself as a prospect.”
Blanks did indeed turn in a big power year in 2007, with a 24 home runs and a .301/.380/.540 line in the High-A California League. Taking 531 trips to the plate, he walked 8.3 percent and improved his K rate to 18.5 percent. Blanks’ ISO soared from .163 in ’06 to .239 in ’07.
The Cal League’s Southern Division does feature some of the best hitter’s parks in the minors, but Lake Elsinore didn’t inflate offense. BA bumped Blanks up to 10th in the Padres’ system, ascribing some of that extra power to “adding a stride” to his swing “instead of just turning and rotating.”
Spending the 2008 season in the Double-A Texas League, Blanks bashed to the tune of .325/.404/.514 in 565 PA. A near-.370 BABIP helps to explain the batting average spike, but Blanks maintained most of his pop (.189 ISO) while taking ball four 9.4% and punching out 18.3%.
Having proved himself at the upper levels, Blanks jumped up to number one on San Diego’s prospect list prior to the 2009 season. He had slimmed down to 280 bills, and BA liked that fact that he “exhibit[ed] strong bat control instead of always selling out for power.” However, they also noted that such an approach cut into his ability to drive the ball at times. Blanks had a “tendency to hit with dead hands” because there’s “minimal load to his swing.”
At Triple-A Portland in 2009, Blanks hit .283/.393/.485 in 280 PA. His whiff rate climbed in the Pacific Coast League (27 percent), but Blanks’ secondary skills shined (14.3 BB%, .202 ISO).
He hit the ground running in San Diego as well, with a .250/.355/.514 line and a 138 wRC+ in 172 plate appearances. It’s unwise to infer too much from such a small sample, but Blanks hit 10 homers with a .264 ISO. He drew a walk 10.8 percent of the time, though he punched out 37.2 percent. Unfortunately, a right foot injury in late August ended his season early.
So, what should we expect from the 23 year-old Blanks in 2010? He’s currently penciled in as San Diego’s starting right fielder. Petco will do its best to sabotage his offense, as the park has depressed run scoring by 24 percent and homers by 27 percent compared to a neutral venue from 2007-2009. Even so, CHONE (which takes park effects into account) projects a .265/.353/.459 line next season, with a 119 wRC+.
It’s frustrating that Blanks will reside in such power and run-sapping environs, but he has the offensive skills to merit fantasy interest regardless. The only question is what position he’ll play.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.