San Francisco Giants Riding the Pine: Kyle Blanks

May 2, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Kyle Blanks (88) hits a home run against the Oakland Athletics during the game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Rangers defeated the Athletics 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Kyle Blanks (88) hits a home run against the Oakland Athletics during the game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Rangers defeated the Athletics 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Kyle Blanks was destined for stardom after bursting onto the major league stage at only 22 years of age, but an inability to stay on the field has continually derailed the promising slugger’s pursuit of success. Nearly a decade after his debut, Blanks has an opportunity to rebound from a series of injuries and revive a major-league career on life support with the San Francisco Giants.

The San Francisco Giants and Kyle Blanks agreed to another minor-league contract this past October after he missed the entirety of 2016 recovering from an Achilles injury. Unfortunately for Blanks, injuries have become the norm for his career rather than the exception.

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Forty-one rounds had passed in the 2004 MLB Draft before the San Diego Padres selected Blanks with the 1241st overall pick out of Yavapai College in Arizona, which also produced Hall of Fame candidate Curt Schilling. Blanks tore up collegiate pitching during his one and only season with the Roughriders, batting .426 with a clean OPS of 1.000, slugging ten home runs, and swiping 23 bags on 26 attempts.

Standing a 6’6” and weighing in around 265, Blanks clearly stuck out from the crowd, his physique resembling Draymond Green more than Brandon Belt, but the Moriarty High star had difficulty attracting scouts because he played in the NJCAA, or National Junior College Athletic Association, rather than the NCAA. Blanks didn’t take the lack of attention personally and quickly outplayed his draft position by proceeding to tear the cover off the ball at every level of the minor leagues.

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From 2006 to 2009, Blanks advanced a level before the start of each season, jumping from Low-A to High-A to Double-A to Triple-A and eventually landing with the Padres. Blanks continued to excel with the bat with each promotion. Over 403 minor-league games in that four-year span, he hit .304 with 66 home runs. Before the 2009 season, Baseball America ranked Blanks the No.1 prospect in the Padres farm system, and after slashing .283/.393/.485 with 12 home runs in 66 games, the Padres brought him up to the show when the team placed Cliff Floyd on the disabled list.

Blanks struggled in his first 22 games with San Diego, batting a mere .160 while striking out 17 times in 59 plate appearances. San Diego kept him in the majors despite his struggles and they were smart to do so as a switch seemed to flip when he launched a moonshot of a home run into the second deck of San Diego’s left field bleachers for the first of his career.

Following a milestone long ball, Blanks totaled nine more over his next 109 plate appearances while posting a slash of .298/.394/.638. The San Francisco Giants and the rest of the NL West began to collectively sweat bullets imagining Blanks in a lineup alongside Adrian Gonzalez, who earned his second All-Star appearance that season and had totaled 90 home runs in three seasons while hitting at an über pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Needless to say, San Diego’s future looked bright.

Just as Blanks began to ramp up his power production, rattling off four home runs in 23 plate appearances, his fantastic rookie season abruptly ended on August 28th due to a case of plantar fasciitis. Losing one of the few glimmers of hope was devastating for the Padres, who were 55-75 at that point in the season, but the climate in San Diego was relatively positive. Blanks adjusted to major-league pitching fairly quickly, and although he did not fully settle in, he gave San Diego’s front office a reason to believe he was the future. Confident in Blanks’s talent, San Diego’s front office traded third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff in the ensuing offseason, freeing up space for Chase Headley to move to third and Blanks to start in left.

San Diego’s expectation was that Blanks would recover after a rehab process, but little did both parties know that the plantar fasciitis injury foreshadowed what was to come for the Padres’ No. 1 prospect.

From 2010 to 2013, Blanks played a total of 180 games, his highest total in a season being 88. A right elbow injury in May of 2010 ended his season and leaked into 2011, followed by a tear in the labrum of his left shoulder in 2012 and tendinitis in his left heel in 2013. San Diego assigned Blanks to Portland to begin 2014, and on May 15th, 2014, San Diego traded Blanks to Oakland in exchange for Jake Goebbert and Ronald Herrera. The Texas Rangers signed Blanks to a minor-league contract before the 2015 season after the A’s designated him for assignment, but he appeared in only 18 games, hitting .313 in 71 plate appearances.

Despite a wild rollercoaster ride of a career, Blanks is relatively young and has plenty of baseball left to play if his body decides to cooperate with him. Now 30, Blanks approaches spring training with plenty of potential, especially for a San Francisco Giants team in need of power off the bench.

For a man of Blanks’s stature, believing he no longer has the same power of his early-20s is a fallacy. Given a full season, Blanks has enough pop in his bat to crack out double-digit home runs, a physical gift no other potential option off the bench possesses. During the aforementioned stint with the Rangers, Blanks slugged three home runs in those 18 games, none of which were cheap shots. With anywhere from 250 to 350 plate appearances, a healthy Blanks could touch ten or more off the bench.

Often understated is Blanks’s ability to play both first base and left field fairly well. Blanks has a net positive UZR/150 rating in 600.2 innings at first base and 850.2 in left field. His defensive versatility cannot be understated, as him playing first base on a Brandon Belt off-day would allow Buster Posey to rest as well without potentially compromising too much offensive productivity.

Blanks falls victim to the stereotypical high-strikeout, low-walk totals of many sluggers and won’t pinch-run unless out of desperation anytime soon, but a decent batting clip with a fair amount of home runs to go with it shouldn’t deter San Francisco from giving him a shot.

Next: Riding the Pine: Ramiro Peña

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