When the Padres picked up Jabari Blash in the Rule 5 draft, it was hard to get that excited.
Sure, Blash had his pluses, but like any Rule 5er, the minuses—the age, the lack of any semblance of prospect pedigree, the strikeout issues—outweighed them. Not to mention, the Padres would be hampered by having to keep Blash on the 25-man roster all season long, thanks to his Rule 5 status. Here’s what I wrote back in December:
Dude’s got some power. Lots of power. But his success last season—32 home runs and a .946 OPS split between Double-A and Triple-A—came as a 25-year-old, and he’s always been on the older side for his leagues. But, shoot, he’s got power and apparently can handle right field with a plus arm. Gimme a flyer.
Okay, maybe I was more optimistic than I assumed. I didn’t feel that optimistic, I promise. I felt like Blash probably wouldn’t make the team, and that if he did, he probably wouldn’t be that good.
Not much has changed since then. Blash, with the prospect of a major-league roster spot tantalizingly close, likely used the winter to get into The Best Shape of His Life. I, on the other hand, spent that time occasionally producing articles about baseball, generally not tweeting, and definitely not getting into the best shape of my life.
What did change is my opinion on Blash. Perhaps it was Padres Jagoff’s #Blashwagon campaign on Twitter that did the trick, gradually
brainwashing #Blashwashing brainwashing me into becoming a believer. Or maybe it was PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus‘ projection system that was released last week, which pegs Blash for a .282 TAv next season (better than anyone in the organization not named Matt Kemp). Or maybe it was ZiPS, another projection system that’s roughly as bullish on Blash as PECOTA.
There’s something alluring about the unknown, and that’s what Blash is at this point, at least for anyone who doesn’t cover the minor-league game extensively or own season tickets at one of the Mariners’ affiliates. He’s big (6-5, 225), he hits lots of home runs (32 last season), he strikes out in bunches (27 percent of the time for his career), and he likes pitches right down the middle (30-second mark). What kind of cereal does he like? Does he listen to podcasts via iTunes or an alternative avenue? What does he look like against major-league pitching? We don’t know that stuff.
He could be Nelson Cruz, who, incidentally, PECOTA tabs as Blash’s 15th-most comparable player. Or he could be . . . Mike Wilson (9) or Kyle Blanks (54) or Russ Canzler (4) or Casper Wells (14). He’s probably got more Wilson in him than Cruz, but there’s a non-zero chance he’s a legit big-league hitter, and there’s no reason why the Padres shouldn’t take a chance on him.
For one, they’ll probably stink next year. Rostering Blash isn’t going to make the difference in a playoff run, and he offers significantly more upside than committing to someone like Jon Jay, who, if he rebounds, is only under contract for one season, or Alex Dickerson, who will remain in the organization whether he sticks on the 25-man or not. And if the projection systems are even in the right area code, Blash won’t hurt the Padres anyhow, even if he’s subjected to a pinch-hitter/spare outfielder role. Plus, he’ll be 27 by July 4—if the guy’s gonna play in the majors, the time is now. It’s not like he’s an inexperienced 20-year-old being tasked with jumping from high-A to The Show.
And second—well, I don’t really have a second. Blash makes sense as a sentimental choice, a Rule 5 underdog who could provide a source of light in a down year. Even if he racks up 0.0 WAR, with poor defense and an unworkable k-rate, there’s still a decent chance he’ll be fun to watch, peppering in enough light-tower blasts to make the strikeouts worth it.
If you trust the projections, Blash makes perfect sense from a strict baseball standpoint, sentiments be damned. Further, this Padres team isn’t expected to contend anyway, and they don’t have a particularly strong group of outfielders to begin with. There’s room for a gamble here, and there’s little downside. Provided he has a solid showing this spring, Blash should make the team—and he might be pretty good.
Get on the #Blashwagon before it’s too late.