Monday, February 13, 2017

TD Top Prospects: #9 Travis Blankenhorn

The first wave of top Twins prospects has already reached Target Field. This has allowed for more recent draft picks to find their way into the Twins top prospect list. Many of the players might not be of the same caliber as Byron Buxton or Miguel Sano but they all have the potential to be everyday players as the Twins fight to get back to their winning ways. 

Age: 20 (DOB: 8/3/96)

2016 Stats (RK/Low-A): .293/.348/.502 (.850), 12 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs
ETA: 2020
2016 Ranking: NR
National Top 100 Rankings 

What's To Like

Blankenhorn has been at least a year and a half younger than the competition at every level. Even with this age difference, he showed an advanced approach at the plate. As a left-handed hitter, he has a good approach and can take the ball to the opposite field with authority. 

After hitting under .245 during his professional debut, he raised his average by almost 50 points. He posted a .900 OPS during his 34 games this season in Elizabethton. Even after that good start, he was able to raise his OBP from .342 to .356 in Cedar Rapids. He reached base safely in 13 of his first 15 Low-A games while batting .348/.403/.530 (.933). 

Blankenhorn destroyed right-handed pitching this season with a .990 OPS. He also came up big in some high pressure situations. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he got on base over 40% of the time and compiled a .543 slugging percentage. 

When the Twins drafted him, Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said, "He's a really good athlete. He's a strong, powerful kid. We really like his swing and think he has a chance for power. He profiles in any corner."

Since joining the Twins organization, he has shown some defensive flexibility. He played shortstop in high school and was drafted as a third baseman. During the 2015 season, he made the majority of his appearances at third base while also appearing in games at first base, shortstop, and left field. Last season, he started 38 games with 35 starts coming at second base. 

Overall, he is a hard worker. This strong work ethic should help him to continue to improve and move closer to Target Field. 

What's Left To Work On

Blakenhorn has just over 300 professional innings at second base. If the Twins intend to keep him there long-term, he is going to have to work on many skills at this position. His instincts will improve with more playing time and this should help him to add to his range. 

Left-handed pitchers controlled Blankenhorn for most of the season. In 74 plate appearances, he hit .209/.274/.239 (.513 OPS) with a 19 to 6 strikeout to walk ratio. He averaged more than one strikeout a game so it will be crucial for him to continue to work on his pitch recognition. As he transitions to full-season leagues, the pitching will continue to improve. 

There are hopes that he will continue to develop more power. He will be younger than the competition so continual adjustments will be critical as he advances. The big jump in his batting average this year was a good sign but his on-base percentage didn't take a similar jump. He's also struck out in over 22% of his professional at-bats. 

His 2016 season also ended on a sour note. Blankenhorn ended the year by hitting 3-for-25 with nine strikeouts and two walks. Following some positive strides throughout the season, this wasn't the best ending to a breakout season. 

What's Next

Blankenhorn will be entering his age-20 season in 2017. After a late-season promotion to Cedar Rapids, it seems likely for him to start the coming season in the middle of the Kernels' infield. He's played at two levels in each of his first two professional seasons so he could potentially be promoted to High-A by season's end. 

During Instructs this year, he was able to continue to work on his defensive game at second base and third base. Earlier this off-season, he told Twins Daily that he was "just trying to become the most versatile player" he could be. He went on to say that he continues to work with the coaches on putting together good at-bats. 

He is still an unpolished product but Blankenhorn made many important strides in 2016. His work ethic and baseball ability could make him a regular fixture in the Twins line-up for years to come. 

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