|"I'm a big man, give this man room. I'd a hit everything from Cancun to Grant's Tomb." - Mase
Emphasis on the big.
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, Kyle Blanks is one of the largest players in professional baseball. However, he's far from a plodding should-be designated hitter, swiping 16 bases over the previous two seasons and playing solid defense at first base.
Blanks was still on the board 1,241 picks into the 2004 draft, but he's posted strong numbers at every step up the minor-league ladder. Prior to this season he hit ...
- .299/.420/.500 at rookie-ball
- .292/.382/.455 at low Single-A
- .301/.380/.540 at high Single-A
- .325/.404/.515 at Double-A
... and so far this year he's batted .319/.410/.580 with a team-leading four homers and 10 walks during spring training and is now off to a .298/.410/.524 start through 24 games at Triple-A despite being six months from his 23rd birthday.
He has plenty of power, but Blanks isn't the one-dimensional 40-homer slugger you might expect based on his massive frame. He's averaged 22 homers and 55 total extra-base hits per 500 at-bats as a pro, which is certainly very good pop for someone who's been young for every level, but equally impressive is his .306 career batting average and reasonable strikeout rates.
Blanks is a much better all-around player than you'd guess from his size, so much so that the Padres are actually considering turning him into a left fielder with Adrian Gonzalez blocking his path to first base in San Diego. Blanks has yet to officially play the outfield, but he's recently begun taking fly balls before games and Triple-A teammate (and full-time outfielder) Drew Macias offered an optimistic early scouting report:
I think he's going to be fine. He's got enough athleticism, especially for his size. He catches the ball when they hit it out there. It's still early. He's working at it. For the type of body he has, he's a good athlete. So I think he'll be fine.
As he starts knocking harder and harder on the door to the majors the Padres must a) learn to live with Blanks' defense in left field, b) trade him, c) trade Gonzalez, or d) move the Gold Glove winner from first base. And there's no easy choice. Gonzalez is just 27 years old and has established himself as one of the best, most underrated players in baseball and parting with a 22-year-old who has as much offensive upside as Blanks is a scary proposition.
If he does see regular action in the Padres' outfield some day, Blanks will become the heaviest outfielder in baseball history. That honor currently resides with Frank Howard, who checked in at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds 40 years ago, yet played over 11,000 innings in the outfield while hitting 382 homers. Not surprisingly, Padres scouts are hoping that Blanks can follow in Howard's giant footsteps.