Large Men, Small Dogs, and a Boatload of Context

Kyle Blanks’ demotion to Triple-A El Paso and subsequent trade to the A’s after going 2-for-10 in a cameo with the Padres triggered a couple of unrelated events. First, it deprived the world of once again seeing a man listed at 6’6”, 265 pounds rock a uniform emblazoned with a cartoon version of the world’s smallest dog.

Second, it gave the Free Kyle Blanks Club a reason to reconvene after having suspended operations only a week earlier when Blanks was summoned to replace Xavier Nady. Then, after the May 15 trade for Triple-A outfielder Jake Goebbert and a PTBNL or cash, it gave FKBC a reason to celebrate.

Blanks was free at last. Or at least in Oakland.

He was hitting .265/.354/.651 for the Chihuahuas at the time of his May 5 recall. He had more strikeouts than hits, but his nine homers were three times as many as the Padres’ team leader, the DFA’d Nady. Scoring 2.63 runs per game, the Padres desperately needed offense. The theory was that Blanks would help. And although the team averaged 4.57 runs per game during his brief stay, he had precious little to do with that.

* * *

Context is always important. In Blanks’ case, there were two issues to consider when perusing his Triple-A numbers. First, although this is the first year in a new stadium, historically the ball has jumped off bats in El Paso (and in the PCL in general). Second, Blanks may have faced some legitimate pitching prospects down there, but the guys he homered off weren’t among them.

* * *

LaVel Freeman, never considered a top prospect, hit .395/.467/.627 for the El Paso Diablos in 1987. This was in a different ballpark, but damn.

That team hit .300/.376/.483 despite featuring minimal big-league talent. Five position players reached The Show and combined for a .245/.308/.357 line in 3,655 plate appearances (most by Ernie Riles), including Freeman’s 0-for-3 with the Brewers in 1989.

Nobody else even had a cup of coffee, and yet the Diablos averaged 6.66 runs per game–appropriate for a team so named, and more than half a run more than runner-up Midland, which played its home games in one of the most hitter-friendly environments in professional baseball. This was 27 years ago, and I don’t know how the new ballpark compares to the old one, but El Paso is still at 3,800 feet, boasts average high temperatures in the 90s throughout the summer, and is one of the drier parts of Texas.

Counterpoint? Only two of Blanks’ nine homers came at Southwest University Park. Then again, he only played six games there. In other words, we don’t know.

* * *

What we do know is that Blanks abused some pitchers of questionable pedigree:

Pitcher HR Age Drafted Rank
Mark Serrano 4/6/14 28 6th round, 2009
Chance Ruffin* 4/7/14 25 1st round, 2010
Blake Beavan* 4/9/14 25 1st round, 2007
Sam Demel* 4/16/14 28 3rd round, 2007
Zack Thornton 4/20/14 26 23rd round, 2010
Josh Lindblom* 4/24/14 27 2nd round, 2008
Sean Murphy 4/27/14 25 33rd round, 2010
Marcus Walden 5/2/14 25 9th round, 2007
Zach Neal 5/4/14 25 17th round, 2010

*Reached MLB

They’re all 25 or older, none has ever ranked among baseball’s top 100 prospects. Through May 14, they have a collective big-league 4.49 ERA in 520.2 IP, averaging 27.8 PA/HR (within spitting distance of how often Adam Jones, David Wright, and Ryan Zimmerman homer). These are journeymen that Blanks should be abusing. It’s nice that he is, but it’s hardly exciting.

* * *

I’ve long been a fan of Blanks. I was at the game where he hit his first Petco Park homer while playing for the Lake Elsinore Storm. I remember his inside-the-park home run like it was yesterday.

Unfortunately he is 27 years old and injury prone, has a long swing and no obvious defensive position. His home/road and left/right splits at the big-league level are almost nonexistent, so it’s hard to imagine a change of scenery or role helping.

Injuries have sabotaged a once-promising career. Maybe Blanks can break through with his new team and become the player folks had envisioned. But he did most of his damage this year in hitter-friendly environments, against mediocre pitching. And since his 2009 debut, Blanks has hit .222/.298/.372 in 634 big-league plate appearances, striking out nearly 30 percent of the time. That’s Garry Templeton without the batting average.

Hope and belief are not the same. Will Blanks thrive in his new surroundings? I hope so.

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  • Shamu35

    Thoughts on Jake Goebbert?

    • Geoff Young

      When the A’s acquired Goebbert from the Astros for Travis Blackley in April 2013, Jason Parks was asked his thoughts. Parks’ one-word response of “Ennui” probably applies here as well.

  • LynchMob

    Blanks goes on my list of favorite Padres’ prospects that didn’t get to be as good as I’d hoped … along with Dave Staton, Ray McDavid, Paul McAnulty … and … well … we all know it’s a long list …

    It’s fun that he’s gone to the A’s … that does give me hope … they seem to know how to give a guy a shot …

    I saw Blanks in a game @ Peoria this spring … he looked pretty bad his first 3 PAs … then HR’d his 4th one, but by that time, the game was way over, and so was my hope for his 2014 season …

    Thanks for the recap, GY …

  • Lonnie Brownell

    My youngest son is named Kyle, and was pretty bummed when he heard his namesake was dealt. Before that, he was a fan of Khalil Greene, because it sounded kinda like Kyle, and that was another heart breaker. So he’s learned the life of a Padres fan from an early age. Indoctrination.

    KB’s already had TJ surgery. Maybe Billy Beane will turn him into a pitcher.