Travis Blankenhorn Makes MLB Debut, Doubles
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins DailyTravis Blankenhorn began the 2019 season at High-A Ft. Myers. After just 15 games, he moved up to Double-A Pensacola where he hit .278 with 18 doubles and 18 homers in 93 games. In his time with the Blue Wahoos, he had the opportunity to see several of his teammates move up and eventually debut with the Twins in 2019.
“Seeing all those guys up there is awesome.” Blankenhorn said in a Get To Know ‘Em podcast last October. He said was excited to see teammates such as Luis Arraez, Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and several other pitchers (as well as one of his best friends Jaylin Davis with the Giants) debut and contribute with the Twins. “Just watching them go up there and have success is awesome. We all love it. We’re all cheering for them. Obviously I think that’s a good motivation that we’re not too far away… It could happen like that.”
Tuesday night in Chicago, it is Travis Blankenhorn’s turn to make his MLB debut. He batted seventh and played second base in a Twins lineup filled with its regulars. The lineup also included Ryan Jeffers behind the plate and Randy Dobnak on the mound. All three of them began the 2019 season together with the High-A Ft. Myers Miracle.
2020 has been a unique year, and that is true for players making their major-league debuts too. Normally, a player would be in a minor league clubhouse or a hotel room when their manager would call them to let them know they were needed in the big leagues.
Blankenhorn was already in Chicago. For the second time this season, he was a part of the Twins taxi squad. He was also part of the taxi squad for the doubleheader in St. Louis. As a taxi squad member, he can work with the team before the game, take some BP, field grounders, etc., but when the game starts, he had to go into the stands.
So on Monday, Blankenhorn was going about his game-day routine. He said, “I was already here. I was on the field. Took some ground balls. Went out to the outfield to shag and that’s when he (bench coach Mike Bell) came up and told me. So I definitely think it’s one of the more unique ways to find out.”
Bell shared his version of telling Blankenhorn that something was up, “You know it’s going to happen. It’s really cool. It’s such a unique year. His family’s not here. Those things go through your mind. When it became official, I had to run out on the field. I just downplayed it. I said ‘Hey Rocco needs you. No big deal.” Who knows what he thought. He might have thought he had to drive back home to the alternate site.”
Blankenhorn said that he ran in to talk to Baldelli. That’s when he got The Call. He was a big leaguer.
He had some phone calls to make, but very quickly.He called his parents and his fiance. “I couldn’t talk long though because my BP group was up, and I wanted to hit. Short phone call.”
All this happened about 90 minutes before game time.
I tweeted about a week before the season that it sure would have been great if MLB had found a way to safely allow family at a player's MLB debut.
Mike Bell agreed that it’s unfortunate, but obviously we understand.
“One big thing that this whole year has taken away from some of these young guys making their debuts is their families aren’t in the stands. It’s unique. I’m sure they’ll never forget it. I hate it for them, but you just keep going back to what the world’s dealing with. Gosh, there’s just so much going on. We’re all pretty fortunate here.”
Regardless, Monday was an exciting day for Blankenhorn. “There was actually a point in the game where I thought I could have gone in yesterday. Definitely an unreal moment. Just finding out an hour before the game that you’re not going to be sitting in the stands today. You’re actually going to be in the dugout. It was definitely a good feeling. Crazy. Crazy day, for sure.”
So now to the actual baseball side of things. We all love the human element of a big league promotion and Major League debut, but why was Blankenhorn called up, and how can he contribute to the Twins over the final 11 games?
First, on Monday, the Twins were without Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano, and Marwin Gonzalez was a late scratch due to illness. The team needed an extra bench bat for the game, and they optioned lefty Devin Smeltzer to add him. It is possible that he could be the player optioned to make room for Jake Odorizzi, who will come off the Injured List on Wednesday and make the start.
Twins Daily's Matthew Trueblood wrote earlier today that he'd like to see Blankenhorn play... everyday!
Blankenhorn debuted at second base on Tuesday night, and that has certainly been his primary position in the minor leagues the last couple of seasons.
As you can see, he played a lot of third base early in his career. In 2019, he added left field to his positions played list. However, there is no question that he has mostly worked in the infield.
He said that after getting his pre-game infield work done, he goes out to the outfield to shag fly balls and work on reads. At the Twins alternate site in St. Paul, however, Blankenhorn said he has worked exclusively in the infield.
Before Tuesday night’s game in Chicago, Baldelli said of Blankenhorn, “I think Blank’s strength defensively is the fact that he can do a lot of different things for you. He’s worked really hard in the infield. He’s gotten to the point where he’s a very competent second baseman and you can feel really good about him getting the job done. Our ability to put him in the lineup comes down to him being very proficient in different spots. I’m looking forward to watching him go.”
Baldelli also gave a lot of credit to the the Twins minor league coaches and coordinators. He noted that a lot of good work is being done at CHS Field. “Our guys have done a tremendous job over in St. Paul. JP Martinez has run that camp over there flawlessly in a situation that is very, very challenging. Our guys have got a ton of work.”
Baldelli continued, “ I know he’s spent a lot of time with our player development guys, with our coaches, with Billy Boyer on a lot of different spots all over the infield.”
Billy Boyer is the Twins minor league infield and base running coordinator. He’s been working with the group in St. Paul this summer. Boyer said of Blankenhorn, “I feel great about where he is with his defense. Blank and our staff have put a ton of time, effort and focus on developing his defensive skill set both at second base and third base. Couldn’t be more proud of him, to see all the time and effort paying off for him.”
2020 has been a strange year. Being at the alternate site is not the same as playing a minor league season, but Blankenhorn said that he and the others in St. Paul are putting in a lot of good work.
“We were all just grinding over there. Everyone knows that there’s a chance. We were all just trying to stay ready. Trying to get our at bats. Trying to get our work in. And going to the field everyday knowing that there’s an opportunity that if something would happen, we would be the guys to go over there (Target Field and the MLB roster). It was definitely a grind trying to stay ready over there.”
Blankenhorn was the Twins third round draft pick in 2015 out of high school in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He was a great three-sport athlete who could have played any of three sports in college. He was a really good defensive back and kick returner on his high school’s football team. He was a big-time shooter on his team’s high school basketball team. And obviously, it appears, he made the right choice in going the way of baseball.
But he was a raw, athletic kid when he was drafted. He has had to work hard. He has had to make several adjustments along the way. He has struck out a lot, and then made adjustments. He has added a lot of power to his game as he has matured physically and mentally. It’s all part of the (often quite non-linear) player development path of a prospect.
“If you look at my swing from when I first got to the Twins until now, I think I’ve changed a couple of times. Picking and choosing what is best for me. I think last year I learned a lot about myself as a hitter and I’m just trying to continue going off of that.”
In last year’s Get to Know ‘Em podcast, he talked about how valuable his experience in the 2018 Arizona Fall League was for him. He was able to pick people’s brains, get other thoughts and ideas and incorporate it into his game, into his approach, and into his swing.
As for getting at bats in St. Paul, it certainly wasn’t a typical schedule, but as Baldelli notes, they have been able to get their work in and when they have come over from CHS Field, they have been ready to contribute right away. Because there are only so many pitchers there, there are different schedules. They don’t play regular games. Some days they may get a bunch of at bats. Some days maybe one at bat. Some days they may not get any at bats.
“They’ve gotten a ton of at bats ultimately. Is it typical? Is it what we’re used to judging guys off of? No. But it’s certainly a spot where we’re getting our guys enough work where we feel really good putting them in major league games when they get over here. We have no hesitation getting Blank out there, and he’s ready to go too. I think you could actually look at it, not from the way we feel about it, but from the way the players feel about it. The players have shown up here throughout, ready to go. Those guys are ready.”
Blankenhorn added, “If you look at the group of pitchers we had over there, the people that came over, I think we definitely had some quality at bats against some quality pitching. I think that was a big part of staying ready.”
Blankenhorn recently turned 24. If asked what type of player I think he can be, I would look to Marwin Gonzalez as a relatively good comp. Gonzalez is a switch-hitter. Blankenhorn is left handed only. But I can see a situation where Blankenhorn is a solid hitter with some power who is going to strikeout a bit. Defensively, he won’t be great at any one position, but he will be adequate at third base and potentially in the corner outfield spots, and I think he can be solid defensively on the right side of the infield. He could be a solid regular starter at second base if needed, but a large piece of his value comes from his versatility. It should allow him to play in the big leagues for a number of years.
It’s a role that Blankenhorn has embraced over the last couple of seasons. He wants to play all over the diamond. “I’m just going to go wherever they tell me to.”
Blankenhorn's Debut (1-for-3, HBP, 2B)
In his first at-bat, Blankenhorn popped up the first pitch to third base. The second at bat was a fly out to left field. In his third plate appearance, he was hit by a pitch in the elbow armor. In the ninth inning, Blankenhorn had that moment, connecting for a two-out double over the right fielder’s head.
Following the game, his manager said, “It’s a huge moment for any player. Anyone that’s been in the big leagues and had an opportunity to have a first like that... It’s certainly a moment and an emotion that you always remember. Sometimes you don’t remember every aspect of your first game, or every aspect of your first hit, but there are certainly some snap shots that he will never forget, and he gets to take with him wherever he goes. We know he’s a good offensive player, a good young offensive player, and seeing him put a good swing on the ball like that is very nice.”
Blankenhorn said later that it was "an unreal moment, getting on that field for the first time. That's what I've been dreaming about since Little League."
He continued, "Getting that first hit out of the way on the first night was definitely nice. (I'm) going to find a case for that baseball and keep it somewhere safe!"
More on Travis Blankenhorn
- Get to Know: Infielder Travis Blankenhorn (October 2015)
- Catching Up With Twins Infield Prospect Travis Blankenhorn (November 2016)
- 2017 Twins Daily Prospect #9 (February 2017)
- 2018 Twins Daily Prospect #17 (February 2018)
- 2018 Twins Daily Midseason Prospect #13 (July 2018)
- 2020 Twins Midseason Prospect #20 (June 2019)
- Episode 6: Get to Know Travis Blankenhorn, LaMonte Wade (October 2019)
- Duran Headlines Twins Roster Additions (November 2019)
- 2020 Twins Daily Prospect #18 (February 2020)
- 5 Questions with Twins Prospect Travis Blankenhorn (April 2020)
- Play Blankenhorn Everyday! (September 2020)
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