Minnesota’s Next Luis Arraez Emergence
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyAt 22-years-old Arraez had played in 329 minor league games. He was not a top 100 prospect, and though he appeared on the fringes of all top Twins lists, his game was focused heavily around a single skill. His ability to hit for average by combining strong pitch recognition with impeccable plate discipline had pushed his career slash line to .331/.385/.414. Starting the year at Double-A Pensacola, he made a three-game pit stop in Rochester and then it happened.
In the early morning hours of May 17, Mariana Guzman of Twins Latinos reported that Arraez was on his way to the big leagues. He quickly proved that his strong bat to ball skills would work at the big-league level and began a full court campaign on taking over the starting second base role for Minnesota. Expecting anyone else to jump from nondescript prospect to the second coming of Tony Gwynn in 2020 is lofty at best, but we can take a stab at a similar success story.
Given the depth employed by Minnesota on the farm, projecting another emergence isn’t necessarily groundbreaking. If there’s a player positioned to fulfill the role however, it’s Travis Blankenhorn in my eyes.
A third-round pick back in 2015, Blankenhorn was grabbed out of Pottsville High School. He’s now 23-years-old and coming off a strong Double-A debut. After posting an .850 OPS in his second pro season, he trended downwards at both Low and High-A the next two seasons. Reaching Pensacola, he re-established himself and earned a spot on the 40-man roster this winter.
Blankenhorn couldn’t be more different from Arraez when comparing skillsets. He’s got some swing and miss to his profile and the .325 on-base percentage across 462 games isn’t earth-shattering by any means. He’s clubbed 56 career dingers, 19 of which came last season. The pop should play at multiple positions, and that’s where a good deal of his value lies. After splitting time between second and third to start his career, he ventured to the outfield a good amount last season. This isn’t a super utility player, but he’s not going to be stretched by moving around the diamond.
When trying to nail down someone that looks the part of an unexpected riser, something that would seemingly need to be present is opportunity. The path created by a 40-man roster spot blazes that trail, and the flames are fanned by the prospect of additional utility. Given the 26th spot on 2020 major league rosters, and the fringe utility types that the Twins may employ, Blankenhorn represents a strong backup plan. It was Jonathan Schoop and Ehire Adrianza that presented holes for Arraez to fill last season, and the latter could once again offer up an opening.
The largest wrench in any sort of continued steam for Blankenhorn would be his strikeout rate. After a .343 OBP at Cedar Rapids two seasons ago, he’s posted a .299 mark at Fort Myers and just a .312 tally in Pensacola. The power is nice to see, but his promotion will come on the back of an expectation that he can hold his own against big league pitching. If that takes another step forward, and the defensive utility remains strong, then the only thing holding him back should be playing time.
Andrew Vasquez was the first selection from the 2015 draft to make the majors, and LaMonte Wade Jr joined him last season. Jaylin Davis debuted for the San Francisco Giants, but it’s Blankenhorn that could be the first (maybe only) top five selection to accomplish that feat. He’s a name to watch in the year ahead, and another Arraez-type breakthrough would certainly be a great development in Twins Territory.
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