It’s easy to forget about big Kyle Blanks after a handful of injuries kept him from the spotlight the last few years. However, the once-touted prospect (#55 overall) showed versatility to play the outfield, despite being a natural first baseman, as well as the ability to hit the ball a long way to all fields.
His full-time shot was hindered by the aforementioned injuries, and he is still only 26 years old with attributes that seem to be ideal for spacious PETCO Park. Blanks does not just posses above-average speed for a big man, but for anyone on a baseball diamond. He plays the game with inner intensity, the right way: hard.
A memorable inside the park homerun in 2009 sticks out in my mind, when Kyle Blanks crushed the ball on a line to center field and immediately put his head down and lumbered out of the box. He seems to get his fair share of infield hits, as well, whether that’s because opposing defenders feel they have more time because of his large stature, or he just flat out beats the throw; it’s probably a combination of the two. Kyle Blanks, seemingly healthy now, believed his tenure with the Padres would end this offseason due to being arbitration-eligible and several health question marks. However, the Padres offered Blanks a reasonable salary, and he and his agent jumped at the chance to remain in the only organization he knows.
The Padres have had depth in the outfield and at first base, so why keep him? For starters, the Padres traded away top prospect first baseman Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs, in hopes of immediate help for the pitching staff, along with possibly being competitive more quickly. The Padres brought over another first baseman (the guy they believed would excel in PETCO Park) in the Mat Latos trade, Yonder Alonso. The Padres lost first baseman Matt Clark to a Japanese team this offseason, outfielder Blake Tekotte to the White Sox,and top outfield prospect Rymer Liriano to Tommy John surgery.
Liriano, 21, seemed to be on the fast track while playing well in double-A San Antonio — a pitchers park, especially tough on right-handed hitters. Liriano also played in the Arizona Fall League, showcasing his skills and improving his approach, and turning some of the naysayers into believers. He probably would have started the year in double-A, and it’s possible the Padres would have had him as a September call up this year. It’s possible that his injury, along with some of the other departures of organizational players, could result in more playing time for Kyle Blanks.
That brings me to Padres left fielder Carlos Quentin, now 30, who has only topped 120 games twice in his career. He’s a force, and a proven run-producer when healthy. However, like Blanks, he has found it hard to stay on the field because of his hard-nosed playing style. Still, the Padres plan on spelling him throughout the year in attempt to rest his surgically repaired knee, but there are no guarantees. In fact, he has yet to play a single game this spring, but the coaching staff has been adamant it’s just precautionary.
Now, getting back to Blanks — he could provide a great insurance policy if/when Quentin needs days off or gets injured. The Padres used Jesus Guzman when Quentin was unavailable last year and after he decided to get arthroscopic knee surgery to start the year. Last year, Quentin hit .261/.374/.504 with 16 home runs and 46 RBI in only 284 at-bats, while protecting the likes of Chase Headley, who had a monster year. Headley, who will be 29 in May, admitted that having a legitimate run producer behind him, one who strikes fear into opposing pitchers, helped him with his MVP-like season.
The Padres outfield/first baseman, Guzman is a more proven hitter than Kyle Blanks and seems to have a knack for hitting in PETCO Park (more in 2011 than last year) and coming off the bench, but his defense is sub-par and his speed is nowhere near Kyle Blanks’. Guzman batted .209/.254./269 during a critical first month for the Padres, filling in for Quentin, a time when San Diego lost ground in the National League West. Guzman hit just .238/.303/.370 pre-All-Star game as oppose to .264/.345/.500 post-All-Star game. One could make the case he is better suited to fill in a bench role than Kyle Blanks; but we know what we’re going to get with Guzman. A serviceable bench player with below average speed and well below average defense at first and the outfield, along with an average bat with limited power.
I would love to see the Padres give Kyle Blanks a shot, over Guzman, to spell Carlos Quentin, Yonder Alonso at first base against tough left-handed pitchers, and possibly even the occasional spot start in right field. In addition, now that PETCO fences are closer, accompanied by the atmospheric conditions, it could be easier for the big man to roam the outfield and get in the lineup without reading too much into his previous injury problems.
Right now, the Padres have Chris Denorfia and Will Venable in a platoon-like scenario, which was successful last year combined when comparing the other right-fielder production in the Nation League. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kyle Blanks or Jesus Guzman traded along with a lower-echelon prospect, in attempt to bring in a solid veteran arm, or an up-and-coming pitcher with upside along with the Padres young and inexperienced pitching staff.
While Kyle Blanks may not be as ideal on paper as Jesus Guzman right now, he’s not far removed from being a top prospect once again. The Padres may start him in triple-A Tucson (barring a trade) to monitor his health until they need him to replace an injured player. But why not put the player with the most ability on the field to get him consistent at-bats?
I’ve always been a big believer in Kyle Blanks. I’d hate to see the Padres lose him and watch yet another Padres player go on to have success after leaving San Diego. Kyle Blanks is off to a very solid spring training, batting .500/.583/.667 with 3 2B, 4 RBI, 4 BB without striking out (something he’s had trouble with in the past and is diligently working on to reduce) in 18 at-bats.
Playing general manager or Padres coach for a day, who would you take, Kyle Blanks or Jesus Guzman?