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Game Thread Twins @ Cubs 9 /20/2020 6:00 PM CDT

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 09:47 PM
The Twins conclude their week in Chicago with a Sunday night game against the Cubs. The Twins have won two of the first six games against...
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Gardy announces retirement

Other Baseball Today, 09:21 PM
This is an AP article lifted from the StarTribune web site.DETROIT — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire announced his immediate retirement bar...
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The Defense And Reality of Dobnak

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 08:43 PM
I almost posted this in a front page thread but decided it needed it's own. I know we are in a playoff push with mixtures of optimism and...
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LT contracts for current star position players

Other Baseball Today, 09:13 AM
I see that Yelich is still effected by a broken kneecap from last year and has a longterm contract now through 2028. It always raised an...
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How does this scoring get the win?

Other Baseball Today, 09:35 AM
Here is the pitching box Grateral 1.1 innings one run Kolarek 0.2 innings no runs Dodgers take lead May 5.1 innings 3 runs Gonzalez 1 inn...
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Recent Blogs

Play Travis Blankenhorn Every Day

With numerous Twins hitters ailing, a rugged offseason schedule looming, and big questions about the offense lingering, rookie infielder Travis Blankenhorn becomes an important player for the team to evaluate over the final week and a half of the regular season.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Blankenhorn, 24, was called up Monday to help the team weather its seemingly perpetual dearth of fully healthy, fully functioning hitters. He was 18th on our preseason list of the Twins’ top prospects, although national prospect publications tended to slot him a bit lower. Some injury issues contributed to his slow ascent through the minors after he was a third-round pick in 2015, and they’ve slowed him down enough to drain defensive upside from his profile. He’s mostly with the club so that they can determine whether he can carry the power progression he showed last season at Double-A Pensacola into the big leagues.

At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Blankenhorn is built like the other rookies on whom the Twins have called in the face of this wave of injuries, Ryan Jeffers and Brent Rooker. Unlike those guys, he was dinged by some scouts because of questions about whether he could access his power in games. There are three main reasons why a prospect might not project to carry batting-practice or minor-league power into big-league competition: an overaggressive (or overly passive) approach; a flat swing plane; and a lack of sheer strength. Blankenhorn certainly has no issues with that last item, but he’s been a very free swinger throughout his professional career, and there were questions about whether he could get the necessary lift with his swing, too.

Some of those questions, Blankenhorn put to rest last year. His total of 19 home runs in 471 plate appearances doesn’t leap out at the jaded modern stat-reader, but neither the Florida State League nor the Southern League has seen the kind of power surge that has swept the Triple-A and MLB levels recently. After a summer at the alternate site, where the Twins have been doing intensive player-development work focused on the same things (lifting and pulling the ball as often as possible, without opening up massive holes in one’s swing or approach) they’ve been focusing on organization-wide over the last two years, Blankenhorn is likely as ready as ever to get the ball in the air to the pull field. Even in the minors, he’s been a pull hitter.

That leaves two questions: what his plate discipline (or lack thereof) will allow him to do at bat, and where he might fit in the field. The latter is actually the easier answer. With Luis Arraez currently sidelined, and with Eddie Rosario now nursing an elbow contusion, the two positions Blankenhorn has played most often are at least periodically available, for the foreseeable future. Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade, Jr. are good enough to man left field if needed, but that assumes that both Max Kepler and Byron Buxton are healthy enough, on any given night, to patrol the other two-thirds of the grass. That, lately, has not been a safe assumption.

Given his size and his below-average speed, Blankenhorn is a suboptimal option in the outfield. However, if the team must choose between putting him there or having him at second, while the hobbled Marwin Gonzalez goes out to chase fly balls at 25 feet per second, they might well elect to let the younger legs do the running. Failing that, or if (it’s not hard to imagine, and in fact, it’s what led to Blankenhorn’s call-up) Gonzalez is unable to play on a given night, Blankenhorn can slot in at second base, his best position and the one where he makes the biggest difference, relative to potential alternatives (like Ehire Adrianza).

That leaves us wondering only whether Blankenhorn can make enough contact against big-league pitching to hit the way he’s proven himself capable of hitting in the minors. The best metric for evaluating performances one needs to translate into potential big-league production is Baseball Prospectus’s Deserved Runs Created rate (DRC+), and last year, Blankenhorn’s was 119 at Pensacola. That suggests that, despite striking out nearly 23 percent of the time, he was a genuinely effective hitter, doing things that can translate well into other contexts. Even so, his minor-league strikeout rates (and a lack of complementary walks) make it impossible to know what to think until Blankenhorn gets into the lineup and sees some big-leaguers who want to get him out.

To that end, the Twins should play him every day down the stretch. Even once Arraez returns, one of Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Rosario, Kepler, Gonzalez, and Arraez is likely to want a day off, anyway, given the way their 2020s have gone, so there will be openings on the lineup card. With a robust (if still very small and potentially misleading) sample of play to evaluate, the Twins will be able to decide what they can expect if they carry Blankenhorn on the playoff roster.

It matters, in a big way, because there will be no days off during any of the first three rounds of this year’s playoffs. Given the nature of the lingering injuries with which many of the players named above are dealing, and considering the conservative approach the team has taken with those players, the likelihood that they’ll need an extra left-handed bat (at second base or in left field) at some key juncture, perhaps even to start one or more games, is quite high. Starting Adrianza in any playoff game would be hard to justify, even given his solid glove.

It’s not hard to find encouraging comps for Blankenhorn, as he matriculates to the majors. A few years ago, such a big, bat-first player at second base would be tough to imagine, but Mike Moustakas and Max Muncy have been highly successful regulars at that spot recently. Nor does his profile seem as risky, offensively, as it might if the Twins didn’t specialize so well in magnifying the things (power, a selectively aggressive approach) Blankenhorn most needs to do in order to succeed. He’s with the team. They need a player like him, even if everything breaks right in terms of health over the rest of the season, and that’s a big ‘if’, anyway. Rocco Baldelli needs to get Blankenhorn onto the lineup card often.

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6 Comments

I agree he needs to play. There is no sense bringing him up to just sit, especially with the bats of Adrianza and Marwin being so quiet. Though Marwin seems to be beating up lately. But let him play and get his feet wet at the bottom of the order. The worst thing that could happen is he gains experience for the future. Despite not yet showing the defense we'd like to seem he remains a pretty good athlete from everything I've read. He's twice stolen double digit bases with a high % of success in his career. And he's looked good in the OF, range wise, from the few times I've seen him. So I don't think speed is an issue, though he is no burner to be sure. I'd like to think he has a chance to be a really nice 5 position bench piece with an OK bat and power. Up to him to prove he can be that.

yes - play him.Adrianza and Marwin will be gone next year.Let's get the next man up into shape for the future. 

    • bighat likes this

I assume with Sano and Rosario back in the lineup and Gonzalez apparently feeling much better on Tuesday, I suspect that Blankenhorn will be optioned to make room for Odorizzi, especially with Odo having potential to not last too long in his return to the rotation. 

    • dbminn and bighat like this

 

I assume with Sano and Rosario back in the lineup and Gonzalez apparently feeling much better on Tuesday, I suspect that Blankenhorn will be optioned to make room for Odorizzi, especially with Odo having potential to not last too long in his return to the rotation. 

Gosh darn it Seth, why do you have to be so rational about these things? Can't we dream of an unheralded rookie picking up our season? :)

    • Seth Stohs and Danchat like this

 

I assume with Sano and Rosario back in the lineup and Gonzalez apparently feeling much better on Tuesday, I suspect that Blankenhorn will be optioned to make room for Odorizzi, especially with Odo having potential to not last too long in his return to the rotation. 

That's true -- rosters are still capped at 28, there are no more crazy huge September rosters like in years past.

Photo
FlauerPauer
Sep 16 2020 04:56 PM

And just like that he is sent down. Would rather have seen Astudillo get shipped out, but I guess if they don't want to take a chance if Avila gets hurt. Astudillo is not a good catcher though.