Prospect Report: Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres

Eric StashinSenior Writer IMay 14, 2009

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  Kyle Blanks of the San Diego Padres poses during photo day at Peoria Stadium on February 24, 2009 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Every season there is a sizable list of prospects who appear primed to make a major impact in the major leagues, but the team has no place to use them.  “Blocked prospect” is a phrase we’ve all heard, and it definitely applies to the Padres first baseman Kyle Blanks.  All he has to overcome in order to be slotted into the middle of the Padres lineup is Adrian Gonzalez, one of the best players in baseball. 

There is a ray of hope now available.  According to Tom Krasovic of The San Diego Union-Tribune, “an uncertain yet potentially far-reaching experiment by the Padres will begin soon when Kyle Blanks plays left field for the Triple-A Portland Beavers.” 

Why would the experiment be considered uncertain?  While there have been rumblings of the team using Blanks in the outfield in the past, his ability to handle the position is certainly in doubt.  Minor League Baseball has the 22-year-old listed at 6′6″, 270 pounds.  Does that size completely eliminate him from potentially handling things in an enormous Petco Park outfield? 

Never say never.  With the bat that he possesses, the Padres may be willing to accept some negatives in the field in order to infuse his bat into an anemic offense.

The 2004 42nd-round draft pick has steadily made his way through the Padres system, taking it one level at a time.  Part of the methodical approach came due to an infection in his leg, costing him nearly a month and a half of the 2006 season, slowing his progress. 

At Single-A that season, he had hit .292 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI in 308 at-bats, including being named to the Midwest League All-Star team.  However, during his injury reports are that his weight inflated to around 300 pounds, something that needs to be monitored.

In 2007, the Padres moved him up to High Single-A and he responded by hitting .301 with a career high 24 homers and 100 RBI.  The power took a slight step back in 2008 at Double-A, hitting just 20 bombs, but he hit .325 and bettered his RBI total, driving in 107 runs.

Thus far he appears primed to surpass his career high in home runs in 2009, but he is also playing in the notorious Pacific Coast League.  He is currently hitting .287 with eight homers and 23 RBI over 122 AB.

It is not only about the power, as you can see by his .306 career minor league average.  Baseball America, who ranked him as the team’s top prospect heading into 2009, said “he takes pride in his ability to hit for average and focuses on taking the ball to center and right field when pitchers work him away-and that’s despite having the raw power to rival any player in the system. He has tightened his strike zone and closed holes in his swing each season.”

His eye at the plate has also been good, allowing him to post a career OBP of .393.  Over his career, he’s posted walk rates of:

  • 2006 - 10.5 percent
  • 2007 - 8.6 percent
  • 2008 - 9.4 percent
  • 2009 - 11.6 percent

With increased walks have come increased strikeouts this season (37 in 122 AB), though it is a small sample size.  Last season he posted a strikeout rate of 18.3 percent, so while an increased patience could lead to him striking out a little bit more, I think it is too early to really tell. 

He has never shown that he would be a huge strikeout player like he has in ‘09 and I would expect him to reduce them as he continues to settle into the higher levels.

Blanks talked about his hitting to mlb.com, saying “I feel like I progressed as a hitter, approach-wise. I built up my patience. I definitely attribute a lot of my success to my coaches Max Venable [last year at Lake Elsinore] and Terry Kennedy [this year at San Antonio]. I’ve talked a lot to them about my swing and my approach and they had a big part in my success. I had to listen to what they said. I can’t thank them enough. It was trial-and-error and I was learning every game about making adjustments. I had to find that out and those two gave me some big help.”

He continues to prove that he is too good of a hitter for the Padres to simply leave toiling in Triple-A for long.  Their lineup desperately needs a second bat, not only to help protect Adrian Gonzalez, but to simply produce runs.  Through Wednesday they had a major league-worst 128 runs scored and were tied for second-to-last with a .240 average.

I love the idea of at least seeing if he can play the outfield.  What do they have to lose?  If he proves capable, he’s going to find himself patrolling either left field or right field by the middle of June.  If not, the team puts him back at first and then decides if the time is right to make a trade.

Either way, Blanks is too good to be left in the minors for long.  If you are in a deep keeper league, I’d stash him away now as he could be making an impact sooner then we think.  I already have scooped him up in my 13-team mixed league.  Yearly league owners want to keep his name in mind, since once he’s recalled he could have immediate value.

What does everyone else think?  Is Blanks a player you think will be worth owning in 2009?  Do you think he can handle the outfield?



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