Padres Prospect Report: Dennis Tankersley

There has been talk of shipping San Diego Padres prospect Dennis Tankersley out of town recently. Kevin Towers has maintained that he would like to see him in spring training this season to work with Darren Balsley and go from there. Tankersley was the "throw-in" player sent along with Cesar Saba in the deal that sent Ed Sprague eastward to the Boston Red Sox. Now he is anything but a "throw-in".

Dennis Tankersley, originally drafted by the Red Sox in the 38th round of the 1998 draft, was the man who sealed the deal in trade talks. Since the trade, Tankersley has been a dominating pitcher in the minors at times.

Mobile BayBears announcer Tom Nichols recalls one of his favorite moments in the booth:

"The season that Jake (Peavy) pitched for us, we started that season with a rotation of Ben Howard, Dennis Tankersley, Eric Cyr and Jake Peavy. Some of those guys have not yet panned out as the Padres would have hoped; Cyr is not in the organization anymore. Having those four as a rotation and watching those four guys pitch…

"And Tankersley was absolutely unbelievable."

Tank mixes a low to mid-90s sinking fastball and a nasty slider that, coupled with his deceptive three quarters delivery, makes the ball tough to pick up for right-handed hitters.

Tank hit a wall when he was called up to the Big Leagues and shellacked. In 51.3 innings during the 2002 season, Tank allowed 46 runs. His WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) was a whopping 1.93. The best thing about Tankersley's 2002 season in San Diego was his bat. He had four hits in 13 at bats, including a double and a homer.

"I wonder whether there has been an injury of some sort," Nichols said. "Also with Dennis, he is a person with a lot of personal pride and he, I think, felt so bad that he let people down when he went up there. He didn't want to go up there and just be average guy. He told me this in a radio interview one time, he said, ‘I want to be a good major league pitcher, if not great.'

"He felt like he let everybody down when he got up there and then he was trying to get back as quickly as he could and he got the one spot start this year which was just a disaster."

Tankersley pitched one game for the Padres in 2003, a spot start as Nichols mentioned. Tank had one start and did not record an out. He did, however, allow seven runs on four walks and three hits. Fourteen days later, Tank was placed on the disabled list after having his shoulder examined. He rejoined the Portland Beavers and went 8-11 with a 4.65 ERA.

"I just really hope that he can somehow find his way and get his confidence back," said Nichols. "I still hope he somehow gets it turned around. You could have a consistent 20 game winner if the light comes back on for him.

"When he was with us in 2001, which was his first year, he was with us part of 2002 also, but 2001 he was actually better that year. He was so good that if you took the best hitter on the opposing team, Dennis just dominated that guy. I have never seen anything like it. Nobody had a chance against him. I don't know if he has had an injury or just lost his confidence, but he still hasn't really gotten out of Triple A. If he ever finds it and it might take a change of scenery or not, but if he could ever find it, you have a guy there that is going to be a number one or number two starter for a long time."

"We have seen a lot of pitchers come through this league over the years. Since I have been in the league, we have seen the likes of Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood, Scott Williamson and people that were just dominant. Rocker coming up the first time, Tankersley was the best of any of them."

Just how dominating was Tankersley? In 2001, he started the year with Lake Elsinore and allowed just three earned runs in 52.1 innings pitched. Remember the stat above, 46 in 51.3? Three earned runs – good for a .052 ERA. In Mobile he struck out 89 batters in 69.2 innings and compiled a 2.08 ERA. He dominated two levels and finished the year in a third, Triple-A. A tired arm shut him down after three starts in Triple-A, however. Tankersley's success is attributed to Padres coaches changing his delivery when he joined the club.

He has generally had good control for a pitcher who throws as hard as he does as he has averaged over a strikeout per inning in his minor league career. The 6-2 right-hander throws both a two- and four-seam fastball, ranging from the low-to-mid-90s in velocity. Added to his fastball, Tankersley also uses a good slider and curve as his second and third pitches.

"It might take a change of scenery," Nichols said. "It would be a shame for the Padres if that happened. They have had a chance to see what they could do with him and so far it hasn't worked out. He is still fairly young. I think he is 23 so he is still young and still has a good arm. I just hope he hasn't had an injury. At the end of the 2001 season, which was his best year, they shut him down at the end of the season for a dead arm and he did have some soreness that year. He pitched in the Futures game and had some soreness after that and I am sure they have talked to him and asked him.

"It is hard for a pitcher sometimes to admit that their arm hurts, even if somebody asks them point blank. 90% of the guys will say my arm feels fine even though it might be killing them. I don't know if that is the case with Dennis. His velocity – he was hitting 96 every night in 2001. This year I think he was down around 91 – 92 tops. That is a pretty substantial loss of velocity.

"I hope they can get him back."

The Padres hope this offseason with the help of Balsley that they will accomplish just that. At 24, he still has upside and it would be a shame to see his talent blossom somewhere else.


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