Blash's Breakout

The 24-year-old outfielder finally broke through in his fourth professional season, reaching Double-A and setting career highs in a number of categories. That success carried forward in 2014 when he opened with Jackson again. Now he's at the minors' highest level, just a step from the big leagues. What changed? SeattleClubhouse tackles that question and more.

If you get taken in the Major League Baseball Draft three times in four years, odds are that you are a fairly obviously talented baseball player. Jabari Blash did just that, and Jabari Blash is just that.

But six years after he was first drafted in the 29th round by the White Sox, Blash was still playing at only the High-A level early in 2013 and he really had not progressed much beyond teasing with being "toolsy". But that all started to change as the 2013 season progressed, and by the beginning of this current season, most prospect people knew who Jabari was and what he was capable of.

The Seattle Mariners promoted Blash -- a 24-year-old outfielder originally from the Virgin Islands -- to Triple-A Tacoma yesterday, and the 6-foot-5 right-handed power hitter is now hoping to show the big league club what he is capable of while just a short drive away from Safeco Field.

Blash's power -- which grades out as easily plus -- has always been his pushing tool, but his plate discipline and patience have served as both a blessing and a curse for him during his time in Seattle's system. A rare pro who didn't really pick up the game seriously until his senior year in high school, Jabari admitted to me in a 2011 interview that he was looking to hit the fastball too much early in his pro career. That led to taking a lot of pitches and taking a lot of strikes, getting himself into bad counts as a result. As a result, he was getting attacked with off-speed pitches a lot the first few years of his career, and was having trouble doing anything with them. That has changed over the last calendar year. Chris Harris recently answered a question on Twitter by saying that Blash probably, "sees 75% off speed" pitches from opposing pitchers while with Jackson.

Jabari has always had the ability to have good plate discipline as he has strong pitch recognition skills. Upon refining his approach and mentally adjusting to the way that he is being worked by pitchers, Blash has minimized the biggest weakness in his game -- strikeouts -- without sacrificing any other part of his hitting ability. In his 2010 professional debut in the Appalachian League, Blash hit .266/.362/.477, out-OPSing the league by nearly 20 per cent, but he posted a 34.6% strikeout rate. An .882 OPS in 2011 was accompanied by a 27.6% strikeout rate. A .787 OPS in 2012 (still 11.6% above league average) for Clinton carried a 28.5% strikeout rate. But the strikeout number dropped to an even 25% combined in 2013 and is a combined 22.5% here in 2014.

A 22.5% strikeout rate isn't a fantastic number by any stretch, but nearly one in nine of the top 17% of players in terms of fWAR since 2005 had a higher strikeout rate than that over that time. And the improvement that is there for Blash -- cutting the number down from 34.6% -- is a hugely encouraging sign in Blash's development, hinting that the number can and will fall even more. But even if it doesn't, Blash's power potential could make him a valuable big leaguer. His breakout in 2013 happened because he got that number to a manageable figure. We live in the age of the strikeout, and through the end of April there are actually seven MLB teams striking out at a higher rate than that 22.5%.

Based on the 2013 year as a whole that Jabari put together, I had him ranked 21st in our pre-2014 Top-50 countdown. With the start he's had to 2014, lending more weight to his late-2013 performance, it is clear that Blash has moved beyond that level as a prospect. Drafted three times in four years, Jabari Blash is, indeed, a very talented baseball player. And now, with those talents more polished, he is knocking on the door of the big leagues.

Looking for more Mariners news, articles and player interviews? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse site Editor Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.

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