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Article: Twins Prospect Spotlight Series: Travis Blankenhorn

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#1 Tom Froemming

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Posted 19 December 2017 - 06:07 PM

As a way to look back at a great minor league season and look ahead toward the release of the 2018 Twins Prospect Handbook, I’ve been writing a series of features on prospects I seem to be especially high on. The final player to receive the spotlight treatment is infielder Travis Blankenhorn.Ranking prospects is a difficult task and everyone has a bit of a different methodology. This series isn’t meant to be critical of any of the other lists out there, it’s all about presenting a positive case for the featured player. We started at the bottom of my list and worked up from there. Here’s a look back at previous installments:

Range 41-50 spotlight: Zander Wiel
Range 31-40 spotlight: Tom Hackimer
Range 21-30 spotlight: Lachlan Wells
Range 11-20 spotlight: Ben Rortvedt
Range 1-10 spotlight: Travis Blankenhorn, No. 9

Blankenhorn had a streaky season, but when he was rolling it was quite a sight to see. He posted an OPS north of 1.000 in both June and August, but in between had a dismal July. Still, from June forward he hit .265/.358/.492 (.851) in 69 games. Over that stretch, his walk rate was 10.4 percent and he struck out in 22.2 percent of his plate appearances. I don’t feel like that’s an alarmingly high strikeout rate for a guy slugging near .500 and taking some walks.

What might explain some of that ugly July when he hit .144/.238/.211? It’s possible he was tinkering with his approach or that he was a little worn down physically. Could've been a combination of the two. Blankenhorn entered 2017 with 467 plate appearances as a pro spread across over two seasons. He logged 508 PAs over 118 games in 2017 alone.

Even with some ups and downs, Blankenhorn was the youngest player in the org to hit at least 13 home runs. There are signs more dingers could be on the way. He ranked ninth in the Midwest League with a 45.1 percent fly-ball rate and was 11th in pull percentage at 48.6. He's also been doing a great job of decreasing his ground balls each season.

Blankenhorn GB:FB ratio
2015: 2.05
2016: 1.37
2017: 0.99

Along with some encouraging signs that a power surge could be in the future, Blankenhorn is also a good athlete. He led the system with 11 triples and is 21-for-24 in stolen base attempts over his career (87.5 percent success rate). One of those steals was among the most memorable moments of the 2017 minor league season.

The Kernels were vying for a first-half playoff berth. Tie game. Bottom of the eighth inning. Bases loaded. Two down and a 1-2 count on the batter ... BLANKENHORN’S STEALING HOME!!!!



How cool was that? Blankenhorn also led the entire org in hit-by-pitches with 17, so this is also a guy who has a bit of grit to him. He still has some work to do in terms of smoothing out his baseball skills, but that shouldn’t be too surprising given his background.

Blankenhorn was a three-sport athlete in a cold-weather state (Pennsylvania), so he may not have gotten as much time on the diamond as some other guys who focused solely on baseball. Looking back, his numbers with the Kernels remind me a bit of another young guy who spent relatively limited time playing baseball as an amateur ...

2017 Blankenhorn, age 20 season with Cedar Rapids
.251/.343/.441 (.784 OPS), 9.3 BB%, 23.4 K%

2013 Max Kepler, age 20 season with Cedar Rapids
.237/.312/.424 (.736 OPS), 9.1 BB%, 16.3 K%

Kepler had one of the more unique backgrounds of any prospect, so it’s tough to compare his early years with a player who came from a more traditional path, but I just thought it was really interesting to see their numbers side-by-side.

Platoon splits are a concern for Blankenhorn, who hit .228/.320/.346 vs. lefties, and he didn’t have a good year defensively at third base. He looked a bit more comfortable at second base, but it’s also possible that at some point he ends up as a corner outfielder. There's still time to smooth things out as an infielder, and I'd expect him to get more opportunities to develop at the hot corner.

Only time will tell where Blankenhorn ends up defensively, but you can count me as a believer in the bat. For more on Travis Blankenhorn and about 170 other Twins minor leaguers, be sure to pick up a copy of the 2018 Twins Prospect Handbook, which will be available ... VERY SOON!!!

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#2 Dman

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Posted 19 December 2017 - 08:16 PM

I need that prospect handbook ASAP. Big fan of Blankenhorn but hoping for more with the bat next year. Should be a good group with palacious, ariaz, Diaz rortvedt and Whitefield leading the way.
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#3 Parker Hageman

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Posted 19 December 2017 - 09:15 PM

Even with some ups and downs, Blankenhorn was the youngest player in the org to hit at least 13 home runs. There are signs more dingers could be on the way. He ranked ninth in the Midwest League with a 45.1 percent fly-ball rate and was 11th in pull percentage at 48.6. He's also been doing a great job of decreasing his ground balls each season.

Blankenhorn GB:FB ratio
2015: 2.05
2016: 1.37
2017: 0.99

 

 

GET THE BALL IN THE AIR.

 

That's it. It's that simple*

 

Blankenhorn made several adjustments since the middle of last season, adding a leg mid-season in 2016 and then adding barrel tip to his swing this season (this is one effective way to increase power/bat speed). 

 

 

The strikeouts are a concern, as is the platoon splits. I'm very interested in seeing what this kid is capable of doing at the next stop.

 

*It's incredibly hard. 

 

 

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"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#4 DocBauer

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Posted 19 December 2017 - 11:03 PM

Blenkenhorn is one of my favorite prospects in the system. In fact, he and Cabbage are two of my most "intriguing" prospects in the entire system. The reason is rather simple, but with a certain complexity. They are both talented athletes who played multiple sports in school, rather than being a product of the new age "system" where you concentrate on one sport, attend every camp you can, play on every select team you can, etc, etc. Its a product, I suppose, of growing up in tne midwest, and seeing so many talented athletes from smaller towns who participate in various sports, and generally excel, but lack the polish and high "pedigree" from concentrating solely on one. But when finally given the opportunity to do so, they begin to really blossom.

Coaching, time, patience and opportunity can mean so much to kids like this...Kepler is a fine example...and the rewards, in any sport, can be tremendous.

My only real concern with Blenkenhorn is patience. Maybe, despite being drafted as an infielder, he is Edward Scissorhands with the glove. But how many ML infielders have we seen, including past Twins greats, that have struggled initially with defense before talent and work paid dividends? Gaetti and Koskie come to mind. Is he being moved around too much too soon before allowing him to really settle in as a possible 3B? I totally get playing multiple positions to increase versatility, but only 20yo, he could continue to play a majority of 3B, and some 2B, for the next couple of years and still be looking at the majors with a clear visage at being only 22 or 23.

We're I another team looking to make a trade with the Twins, he would absolutely be in my top 10 of guys to include in a deal for a top pitcher I was looking to move in a rebuild. Hello Tampa and Pittsburgh. Not saying I don't want to keep him, but I think he is a very viable piece to a trade that some vastly overlook.
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#5 Tom Froemming

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Posted 20 December 2017 - 08:46 AM

 

I need that prospect handbook ASAP.

The handbook is getting very close to being done. We're excited to get it into your hands, but there are still some finishing touches left. I'm sure Seth be able will share details sometime soon, so be on the lookout for that. 

 

The strikeouts are a concern, as is the platoon splits. I'm very interested in seeing what this kid is capable of doing at the next stop.

I had a theory that if I mentioned "dingers" and "fly-ball rate" in the same article you might magically appear, lol. Thanks for adding that analysis.

 

It's so hard to try and evaluate production in the FSL that I think those two stats you mentioned -- Ks and vs. LHP splits -- may be the most important things to pay attention to in concerns to Blankenhorn next season. 

 

With both Blankenhorn and Ben Rortvedt I can see myself writing these same kind of articles next year, basically saying "the numbers don't look amazing on the surface, but here's some underlying stuff that we can be excited about." I'd imagine both of them will also be putting in quite a bit of work on defense, so it won't surprise me if their huge breakouts with the bats don't come until Double-A.

 

Blenkenhorn is one of my favorite prospects in the system. In fact, he and Cabbage are two of my most "intriguing" prospects in the entire system. 

Thank you for adding this and the analysis that follows. Some multi-sport guys never catch up, but I agree that it's an important thing to keep in mind in the early goings. Cabbage didn't quite crack my top 50, but I wouldn't be shocked at all if he ends up putting it together and is one of the guys who makes the biggest jumps over the next year.

 

I think once Blankenhorn finds a home in the field he's going to be able to work his way to becoming very reliable on defense. I've seen some people relate his defensive outlook/projected journey to Trevor Plouffe's. He bounced around a bit in the infield, and was a little sketchy when he first started playing 3B. But once it became apparent that was going to be his position, Plouffe worked himself into a solid defender. 


#6 jrod23

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Posted 20 December 2017 - 08:53 AM

Initially, I thought this was a cocky young athlete getting his.I couldn't have been more wrong.He's hungry, aggressive, and gritty, not to mention a true leader who hates to lose.On top of that, during an autograph Sunday, I saw him talking with a fan with downs.He noticed him looking at his bat while they were taking a picture, and told the fan the bat was his, talked to him for a bit, gave him a hug, and sent him on his way.

 

All that being said, he has lots to improve on, both ways, but I agree with DocBauer, he'd be a prospect that could carry a little weight in a trade.I'd love to see us hang on to him because he's got a higher ceiling, and he's a thief on the bases.

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#7 clutterheart

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Posted 20 December 2017 - 03:41 PM

If Blankenhorn continues to be mostly playing 2B, his value decreases in my mind.Twins have lots of guys who profile as MI types who will need at bats and being already removed from 3B should make him drop a bit.

 

Also, I am not sure why it would be relevant to compare Blankenhorn’s age 20 year with Kepler's age 20 year?Kepler was coming off elbow surgery and played in less than half of the season getting his first taste above rookie leagues, while Blakenhorn was in his 2nd stint of low A ball and underperformed compared to when he was at CR in 2016. 
Nothing about their experience seems comparable at all.

Edited by clutterheart, 20 December 2017 - 03:42 PM.


#8 Tom Froemming

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Posted 20 December 2017 - 04:14 PM

 

Initially, I thought this was a cocky young athlete getting his.I couldn't have been more wrong.He's hungry, aggressive, and gritty, not to mention a true leader who hates to lose.  

Yeah, he's got that whole Bryce Harper haircut thing going on with the top all long and the sides shaved. I could see where at a glance someone might make assumptions about his personality. But he plays hard and is a competitor, and from the sound of your story (thanks for sharing, by the way), it sounds like he's a good dude too.

 

(For the record, I like Bryce Harper too, but I know that's not a very popular opinion.)

 

If Blankenhorn continues to be mostly playing 2B, his value decreases in my mind.Twins have lots of guys who profile as MI types who will need at bats and being already removed from 3B should make him drop a bit.

 

Also, I am not sure why it would be relevant to compare Blankenhorn’s age 20 year with Kepler's age 20 year?Kepler was coming off elbow surgery and played in less than half of the season getting his first taste above rookie leagues, while Blakenhorn was in his 2nd stint of low A ball and underperformed compared to when he was at CR in 2016. 
Nothing about their experience seems comparable at all.

Yep, seems like a big reason why a lot of people dropped him to the 20-25 range was due to defensive concerns. I think he could hit enough to be a corner OF if it comes to it, so I'm less worried about where he ends up defensively. The Twins have a ton of MI guys, which may make him less valuable to the org/more likely to be a trade piece, but doesn't really change his prospect stock at all.

 

Blankenhorn and Kepler were the same age and at the same level, so I wouldn't agree that nothing about their experience is comparable at all. Like I said, I just thought it was really interesting to see their numbers side-by-side. Just a fun thing that I came across, draw your own conclusions.


#9 ashburyjohn

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Posted 20 December 2017 - 05:54 PM

Yep, seems like a big reason why a lot of people dropped him to the 20-25 range was due to defensive concerns. I think he could hit enough to be a corner OF if it comes to it, so I'm less worried about where he ends up defensively. The Twins have a ton of MI guys, which may make him less valuable to the org/more likely to be a trade piece, but doesn't really change his prospect stock at all.

With a lot of guys like this I keep coming back to the word "tweener". In basketball it's a pretty common concept, e.g. a guy not quite fast enough to play guard and not quite strong enough to play forward, yet a pretty good player if you happen to have the right niche for him. Blankenhorn is too young to be worrying excessively in this regard, but you'd like not to be thinking about fallback plans like corner outfield quite yet.

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