Travis Jankowski, CF for the Padres, wasn’t anybody who was on my radar. He hit .245/.332/.313 (82 wRC+) with 2 homers and 30 stolen bases over 383 PA in 2016 in his first extended run in the majors. He was the ranked #6 in the Padres system entering the season by Baseball America and was the 44th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of SUNY Stony Brook.
Then this morning Marc Topkin sent out the following tweet:
Then Kevin Cash said the Rays would like to add an OF that can also play CF. The reasoning for interest in Jankowski starts to unfold.
#Rays Cash said there's several options but they'd like to add an OF who can also play CF. Makes interest in Jankowski makes sense— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) December 7, 2016
How good is Jankowski’s defense?
There isn’t a lot of data to work with at the major league level, but in 2016 Jankowski was +11.0 in CF over 697 innings good for +20.9 UZR/150.
That is a hell of a defender, but we need more than a half season of data to know if he’s closer to Kevin Kiermaier in CF or average, but there’s reason to believe he’s better than average. The Baseball America 2016 Padres Top 10 report on Jankowski notes:
That’s a good start to the profile of a plus defender in CF.
Overall, it seems the Rays could do a lot worse defensively than having Jankowski penciled in CF should Kiermaier go down with an injury or need a day off.
How well can Jankowski hit?
Jankowski’s bat producing a .245/.332/.313 and 82 wRC+ isn’t anything special, but inside there are some reasons he could be useful. He was successful in 30 of 42 stolen base attempts (71.4%), so he is able to make use of his speed on the base paths.
His .069 ISO is well below average. You can be a successful hitter by getting on base with very little power, but that is going to be very difficult with a 26.1% K rate. His 11.0% walk rate is likely not sustainable without some threat of power.
It sounds pretty underwhelming as a whole, but there is reason for optimism. His left handed bat has been good against RHP as he hit .275/.368/.359 good for a 105 wRC+. As with most left handed batters he really struggled against LHP, but we aren’t looking for a starting role player.
His 26.1% K rate isn’t what you would expect from a prospect who struck out 12.5% of the time in 433 AA PA and 8.8% of the time in 113 AAA PA, so that may come around.
For a guy with limited power as his highest minor league ISO was .103 and his plus-plus speed the goal should be putting the ball in play as often as possible. His 26.0% LD rate and 58.4% GB rate is what you want to see out of a player of his skills.
If the Ks come down he could be very useful as his contact quality doesn’t matter nearly as much for a line drive and ground ball batter.
How does he fit on the Rays roster?
The Rays roster currently has Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza, Jr., Corey Dickerson, and Mikey Mahtook as the four outfielders that would be in line to be on the 25-man roster.
Mahtook and Jankowski both have limited samples on defense. Jankowski’s scouting reports suggest he could be an everyday plus defensive CF where Mahtook could cover CF as a 4th outfielder, but shouldn’t be seeing extended time. If an outfielder went down with an injury, Jankowski would bring value against RHP and fill in most of what is lost in any of the three outfield positions.
Jankowski would also bring value off the bench with his wheels when the Rays need a runner late in the game, and present an upgrade as a defensive replacement to close the game.
For the Rays, Jankowski offers an immediate upgrade to the roster over Mahtook right now, even though his bat would not fit in a platoon with Dickerson. For the Padres, he already became expendable with Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe requiring playing time in the outfield.
A deal makes sense.
It’s not an exciting potential acquisition, but if the Rays don’t give up anything off the roster or a prospect of significant future value I think he would improve the Rays 2017 team.