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Rays free agent target: Recently designated OF Jabari Blash

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San Diego Padres v New York Mets Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The Padres recently designated Jabari Blash for assignment, mainly due to their signing of Trevor Cahill, but also because they have a glut of young outfielders fighting it out for playing time.

Should the Rays - who recently dealt Mikie Mahtook to the Tigers when facing a roster crunch - attempt to add him to the roster? The short answer is yes, they should, but here’s more on Blash before going through how he’d fit in the Rays plans.

Jabari Blash - OF - 6’5” 235 lbs - 8th rd pick by SEA in 2010

BLASH 2016 AAA STATS OVERALL:

229 AB: .260/.415/.514, .929 OPS, 17.9% BB rate, 28.8% SO rate, 12 doubles, 11 HR

BLASH 2016 AAA STATS vs LHP:

63 AB: .302/.423/.619, 1.042 OPS, 13 BB, 20 SO, 5 doubles, 5 HR

Simply put, he dominated LHP in 2016. But was it a flash in the pan? And why did he struggle so much in 2016 when in The Show?

No Flash in the Pan

In 2015, while still with the Mariners, Blash lead their Tacoma team in HRs with 22 despite getting less than half the AB that the person he tied got (197 AB vs 472 AB for Patrick Kivlehan). That was good enough to provide him with a ridiculous .376 ISO rating. Through the last 3 season in the minors, Blash has managed a 149 wRC+ or better and wOBA over .400.

In 2016, he used the whole field, hitting just over 40% of the time on the pull side and in centre, with being able to drive the ball the other way just under 20% of the time.

On the Fielding side, he did not make any errors while in MLB and only made 1 in AAA, and he managed an 11.8 UZR/150 rating in right field in limited time in SD. Fangraphs had his range rated as slightly above-average at 1.4 RngR.

He’s proven all that he needed to prove at the minor league level - aside from lowering the Strike Out rate some - and thus is ready for the challenge of MLB... or so the Padres thought.

The truth is, the Padres never REALLY gave Blash a shot. He started 2016 the season with the big club and only received 1 AB per game through 20 of his 23 first appearances. For anyone that knows how hard getting regular ABs as a DH can be, imagine how hard it is for a rookie to perform when only getting 1 AB per game played. Blash wound up only managing 3 hits in the 29 PA he received in 23 games and was sent down to AAA. That he managed to walk 4 times was the only highlight.

The Padres did bring him back up to the big leagues in July and provided him with more regular playing time. How did he do in comparison? He managed 9 hits and 7 walks over 51 PA, including 3 HR. A much better showing overall, but the Strike Outs were still high at 21.

Minor League Ball’s John Sickel summed up his K issues well within his review of the top 20 Padres prospects for 2016, where he had Blash ranked as the 14th best Padres Prospect (C+ mark), stating the following:

“Hitting .260/.415/.514 in Triple-A; has spent much of season on Padres bench hitting .160/.298/.324 with three homers, 11 walks, 34 strikeouts in 71 at-bats; big contact problems but also has big power when he connects. Running out of room on the age curve at 27.”

An outfield prospect who can provide power off-the-bench. Who needs that?

Cincinnati Reds v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Jabari Blash Has What Rays Need

When the Rays lost Steve Pearce in 2016, they lost a player that crushes LHP. As JT Morgan recently reported, the Rays will likely take a further step back in 2017 vs LHP, most due to how few Rays hitters are above-average against Southpaws.

Now that Mahtook has been dealt (136 wRC+ vs LHP), only Longo and Frosty, both at 129 wRC+, are well above-average. The Rays did bring in Jason Coats, 181 wRC+ vs LHP in 2016, although his sample size is very small.

We also need to remember that the Rays let Taylor Motter go, a player who provided outfield depth along with Mahtook.

If we now look beyond Coats and Mallex Smith on the OF depth chart, we can see that only Nick Franklin stands ready to man LF or RF, but in truth he’s really an infielder. There’s a high probability that Smith starts the 2017 in AAA for contract reasons, so Coats would inherit a bench role alongside Franklin, Beckham, and one of the backup catchers.

But is there more use in carrying both Franklin and Beckham, who fill similar roles, or in carrying two outfielders in Coats and Blash who could change the course of the game with one big swing?

Beckham managed a just below average 98 wRC+ in 2016 and is making $885K after his first ARB eligible year. Franklin, meanwhile, managed an above-average 110 wRC+ and is making league minimum before being ARB 1 eligible post 2017. We will have more on both of those players later today.

There could be a case made for keeping Franklin over Beckham and making more effective use of the bench as a result of Franklin staying an infielder. This assumes that the Rays want Bauers to get some AAA experience before testing MLB pitching, it leaves the team fairly thin in OF depth. That becomes even more evident when you consider that Franklin hit .216/.256/.297 vs LHP in 2016.

There could be a case made that Johnny Field is ready to test MLB pitching. He now has AAA experience, continues to show above-average ISO (.180) while maintaining a decent line vs both LHP (.281/.352/.453) and RHP (.272/.333/.455). But he doesn’t have any MLB experience and could use another half season in AAA to get in a groove before stepping into a bench role.

Blash coming onto the Rays roster would allow young Rays outfielders like Bauers and Field the opportunity to polish their development and provide a bat able to handle LHP off-the-bench at the major league level.

The Roster Spot

If there’s one thing standing in the way of a Blash acquisition, and it’s the roster spot. That’s the same issue that had Mahtook shipped out, and with Coats seemingly having more of a hold on a spot than Blash would, there’s no glaring hole on the 40-man roster.

Should the Rays want to add the 6’5” 235 lbs Blash to tap into his power-potential, they may have to designate an arm and hope it passes unclaimed or work out a deal if he is claimed. Along with Coats, Blash would provide the Rays with more MLB ready options to work with and ensure the Rays have more than a few answers vs LHP, one of this team’s few remaining weaknesses.