Prospect Profile: Travis Blankenhorn

15
Sep

Over the past six weeks or so, I’ve been traveling to as many Midwest League games as possible to record and scout some of the prospects on hand. This included trips to Beloit, WI (Snappers), Appleton, WI (Timber Rattlers), Peoria, IL (Chiefs), and Clinton, IA (Lumberkings). It was an awesome experience being able to watch a lot of future Major Leaguers, as well seeing the unique designs of each ballpark. Just last month, I wrote up a full scouting report on Brewers’ prospects Trent Clark, Isan Diaz, and Lucas Erceg. This time around, I wanted to do a full profile. One of the players I have been watching quite a bit has been Twins’ prospect Travis Blankenhorn and luckily for me, he put together a show when I saw him and was nice enough to sit down with me for an interview after one of his playoff games. With that being said, time to find out more about Travis Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn grew up roughly 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia in the small city of Pottsville – roughly 14,000 people. A student at the Pottsville Area High School, the infielder had committed to the University of Kentucky, but it seemed as if his plans were to go pro all along. “I had my agent at my house and as long as I was going to get a good deal, I was going to go start my professional career.” The Pennsylvania native was drafted in the 3rd round in 2015 by the Minnesota Twins and decided to make the leap to the pros, inking a deal including a $650,000 signing bonus.

Between two Rookie ball teams in 2015, Blankenhorn went on to hit .244/.321/.347 with three HR in 53 games. But fast forward to this season, the left-handed hitter has been a whole new player. In 59 games, which included a promotion to the Class-A Cedar Rapids Kernels, Blankenhorn slashed .293/.348/.502 with 10 HR and 41 RBI. I asked him if there were any major adjustments he made in the offseason, but that didn’t seem to be the case. “I would say last season coming out of high school, seeing the pro pitchers was a lot different than the high school pitchers – just had to get use to that. With this being my second year, I am now more comfortable with that pitching.”

In the four games I saw Blankenhorn play, he went 5-for-15 with four runs, two doubles, a triple, a HR, four RBI, a HBP, and five strikeouts. There were definitely times he looked dialed in at the plate, on the other hand there were still some difficulties. But first, let’s look at the good.

Take a look, and especially a listen, at this home run he hit August 16th against the Peoria Chiefs. That noise just sends shivers down my spine. That ball was absolutely clobbered. My favorite part was the power shown to the opposite field. Throughout the games I saw him play, he sprayed the ball to all parts of the field. I asked him what his thought process was when going into an at-bat. “My approach is up the middle. I am just trying to hit the ball hard – barrel the ball up and just hit it up the middle.” Barrel the ball he did in the video above. And take a look at this picture:

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What I enjoyed most about this home run is that Blankenhorn drove this pitch on the outside black 380-some feet to left-center field. Instead of rolling over on it and yanking it to the right side, he squared up the pitch and took it deep. That is impressive to see in younger hitters. Blankenhorn mentioned on numerous occasions he is just trying to barrel the ball up when he is at the plate and that is something he definitely displayed in the few games I saw him.

In these last three videos, you see Blankenhorn hit two doubles, as well as a triple down the first base line. You can see that he has ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field for extra bases, but you also get to catch a glimpse of his speed and base running abilities. Now, he isn’t someone who will steal double-digit bags every season, but there is a lot of value to a player that can run the bases correctly and take the extra base. I asked Blankenhorn about how he views himself as a ballplayer, due to the fact there does not seem to be any major weaknesses in his game.

I feel like I am an all-around player, but I know there is more work that needs to be done in the offseason. I need to work on my speed, fielding, throwing, hitting, everything. I just need to keep getting better and work on everything to become a better all-around player.

I also asked him about his playing position and what the plan is for him moving forward. Blankenhorn primarily played 3rd base last season, however this season has mostly played 2nd base, and has DH’ed quite a bit.

To be honest with you, I guess it is up to the Twins where they want me to play. But you know, I am just trying to be a utility player – being able to keep my options open and being able to play wherever they need me to. I think it is a good thing I can play other positions.

Both quality answers from the 20-year-old infielder. His best bet to make it to the Majors one day is the ability to be as versatile as possible. On top of that, if he can fine-tune each part of his game and show that he doesn’t lack in any particular department (just like his favorite player Andrew McCutchen), that would be extremely beneficial to his development and ability to climb through the system.

There were two glaring issues in his game and one was his patience at the plate. In those 16 plate appearances, he did not draw one walk. He saw more than five pitches only once. He saw three or less pitches in 10 of those 16 plate appearances. In 251 plate appearances between Rookie and A-ball this season, his strikeout percentage was 24.3%, while he walked only 6.4% of the time. While those numbers aren’t horrendous, you would certainly like to see those numbers slide closer together. Typically as a player moves up the organizational ladder, they see their walk percentage decrease and their strikeout percentage increase. In Blankenhorn’s case, those numbers must change if he plans on making it to the Majors one day.

Second, he occasionally was overpowered by low 90s heaters and chased breaking pitches in the dirt. This still might have to do with the adjustment from high school to professional pitchers as he had mentioned in the interview, but he was either gassed up or chased curveballs in the dirt on his strikeouts. I would always take a glance at the scoreboard to see how fast the pitcher was throwing (though admittedly an unreliable source), and rarely did a pitcher throw more than 92 MPH. The fastballs are something he should continue getting used to over time, because his swing isn’t too long. However on the breaking pitches, that will be a combination of experience and patience at the plate. Once he learns to lay off those pitches and can sit dead red like some of the extra bases he hit, then he will be in business.

While the major knock against him right now may be his plate discipline, we can’t forget he is just two years out of high school and can’t legally have a drink for another 11 months. He’s still extremely young with a lot of opportunities in front of him. The work ethic is there and as I mentioned before, he did hit .293/.348/.502 this season which is nothing to scoff at. And in his 20 postseason plate appearances (albeit a very small sample size), he hit .350/.435/.550 with two doubles, a triple, and three RBI.

Looking toward the future, there are few things I wanted to mention. He currently stands at 6-foot-2 and weighs 208 pounds (according to the Cedar Rapids Kernels website). My best bet is he doesn’t put on too much weight down the road. He looked like he was in great physical condition and had maximized his frame. Not much should change there. I don’t think that hurts his long-term power however. I believe if he keeps positively progressing year after year, I don’t see why he couldn’t hit 25-30 HR a year. That’s certainly the ceiling and he has a long way to get there, but I think if he can watch more pitches and develop more patience at the plate, he’ll be able to cause some serious damage.

As for some of his other skills, they are all pretty dependent on the power. I doubt he will ever be a .300 hitter, but he should sit somewhere between .260 and .280. If he is hitting 15-20 HR per season, it will probably be closer to .280. If he is sacrificing that average for that 25-30 HR range, it will probably fall to around .260. If he figures it all out, there is a possibility that it all comes together and he can become a very dangerous hitter. It all depends on his development over the next year or two.

Defensively, I didn’t really get the chance to see him play the field. My guess is he is locked in at either second or third base. He played shortstop in high school, a position he will not play in his professional career. He has played a handful of games in the outfield, but that all came in 2015. My hope (and guess) is that he plays the entire season with the Twins’ Class-A Advanced team, the Fort Myers Miracle, in 2017. They will want him to play everyday, so he should probably see time at both positions.

On more of an attitude/personality note, the only thing I knew about Blankenhorn going into these games is that he “gets high marks for his work ethic and makeup”, according to his prospect blurb on MLB.com. I would have to wholeheartedly agree. Specifically, the last game I saw him play, he went 0-4 with three strikeouts. The strikeouts were ugly and something a player could whine and complain about and carry back with him to the dugout. He did not do this. He went back to the dugout, put his bat and helmet away, and joined his teammates. No attitude. And after this game, he still went out of his way to do this interview with me. That says a lot. I am not some big time writer that carries a lot of clout. He could have easily declined or not responded to me. He responded, seemed more than willing to do so, and even after a rough game, was a great guy to meet and speak with.

Lastly, Blankenhorn is currently the 17th ranked prospect in the Twins’ organization, after ranking 19th prior to the season starting. I believe he will fall right outside the top-10 before the start of next season. But if he continues to build on his success, fine-tunes his game, and puts together a big campaign in 2017 (which he is certainly capable of doing), I would not be surprised to see him crack the Twins’ top-five, as well as the top-100 in baseball. That is still a way off, but definitely a realistic possibility.

In the meantime, after losing Game 3 of the Midwest League Championship Series, Travis Blankenhorn will travel back home for the offseason and enjoy some time off. “I’ll be working out in the offseason, going on vacation. I like basketball and football too, so I’ll watch a couple of games – try to go to an Eagles game, Sixers game.” For his sake, let’s hope the Sixers can finish with a winning percentage better than his batting average (something they have not done the past three seasons).

About the author: Jack Conness

Graduate of UW-Milwaukee. Baseball nerd. Follow him on Twitter! @JackConness