In 2009, I was lucky enough to sit right behind the visitor's dugout at AT&T Park. The Padres were in town, which meant I was in for a good ol'-fashioned slap fight. I think both teams combined for 330 runs that season, but it didn't matter. The seats were amazing.
That's when I first saw Kyle Blanks. He emerged from the dugout, just a few feet away from me, and I orbited him for several days until a very nice gentleman from the fire department helped me down. Ever since then, I've been fascinated with him. Now he's on the Giants, and he's hitting spring dingers, so it's a good time to look at his career so far. It's been disappointing, but that's why the Giants have him in the first place. And maybe there's some talent left to mine.
Blanks was the Padres' #10 prospect according to Baseball America before the 2008 season, spending the previous year crushing the California League (.301/.380/.540) at the age of 20. Scouts were worried about his ability to make contact as he advanced, but everyone agreed that he was a very, very strong human being who made baseballs travel very far. He moved up a level in 2008, demolishing the Texas League (.325/.404/.514). He was still young for the league, and that made him the Padres #1 prospect -- #50 in baseball -- before the '09 season. Blanks hit well in Triple-A that year and earned a call up. He was 22, and he hit .250/.355/.514 with 10 homers in 172 plate appearances, good for a 137 OPS+.
He was going to be a star. I was sure of it. He missed the end of the '09 season with a partial tear of his right plantar fascia, one of the widgets or pulleys in his foot. It wasn't supposed to be a lingering problem, and he had the entire offseason to recover.
Then, after a lackluster month at the start of the 2010 season, he was shut down for the year after Tommy John surgery. His All-Star career was going to have to wait. Because of Blanks' injury, the Padres ended up trading Corey Kluber for Ryan Ludwick, which is the most Padres sentence I've ever typed. There should have been a warning at the top of the post, apologies.
No matter. Blanks was going to come back in 2011, rested and ready to take on the world. Except he was in the minors for most of the year. He obliterated Triple-A (.351/.421/.716, 11 HR, 152 PA) after a slower start in Double-A, but he didn't get called up until July. He was merely okay in the majors (.706 OPS), but he also showed some progress after a year off. The 2012 season was really when he was going to emerge as an offensive ...
Then he tore his labrum that April after four games, missing the entire season.
The next year, a couple months after running face-first into a wall, he was sidelined with Achilles tendonitis. The problem bothered him the rest of the year, and he missed months of action.
The year after that, he tore his calf muscle in June, missing the rest of the season.
The year after that, he missed time with a freaking pilonidal cyst, which Google sadly informs us is "an abnormal skin growth located at the tailbone that contains hair and skin." When he didn't have a hair-and-skin growth on his tailbone, he hit well (.313/.352/.522 in 71 PA with the Rangers)
This brings us to the present day. Blanks is on the Giants now, and he's crushing the ball in spring. To recap, he's missed substantial time with ...
- a right foot injury
- a right elbow injury
- a left shoulder injury
- a left Achilles injury
- a left calf injury
- a cyst
This isn't a player who can't get over an injury to the same knee. This isn't a player fighting through chronic back problems. Blanks has dealt with serious injuries, all to different parts of his body, some of them freaky, for his entire career. You might take this to mean that his large body can't take the stress of a 162-game season, and you might be right. Or you might take this all to mean he's nothing if not extraordinarily unlucky, and you might be right there, too. Or maybe it's a combination of the two, with an inability to stay healthy meshing with miserable luck to produce this sad tale.
What I know: He has power. He's still just 29. And he's probably really, really ticked off at the baseball gods, who in turn are really, really ticked off at the Giants over the last six seasons. It's a fearsome combination. While I still think Gorkys Hernandez's speed and ability to play center gives him an edge in the fifth-outfielder race, Blanks' power potential as a pinch-hitter has to intrigue the Giants.
Don't be surprised if Blanks makes the team. And don't be surprised if he thrives. His career OPS+ in the majors is 107, above average, and he's a career .303/.392/.518 hitter in the minors, taking walks and swatting dingers most of the time. And really, really don't be surprised if he misses time this year because he's swallowed by a python or something. I don't remember a player with luck quite this poor.
But I'm rooting for the guy. I was secretly rooting for him with the Padres, and now I don't have to hide anymore. The Giants are good at stacking their even-year nonsense up really, really high. This might be a six-foot, six-inch head start on that impenetrable wall of nonsense.