Name: Kyle Blanks
DOB: September 11, 1986
After making his debut in the Arizona Rookie League last season, Blanks was brought to spring training early to attend a hitter's camp. He showed enough progress to be placed on the full-season Low-A Fort Wayne roster.
He went on to hit .292 with a .382 on base percentage in 86 games. He hit over .320 in three of the four months he saw action, slumping to a .216 mark in June – a month that saw him strike out 27 times.
Blanks was in the midst of a ten-game hitting streak when his season was lost to a mysterious infection in his leg on July 22. Blanks noticed a cut between the toes of his left foot and a week later his ankle had swelled. He underwent surgery to clean out the infection but would not see game action the rest of the way.
There was talk that he would have been able to return if the Wizards advanced to the Midwest League finals, as he was taking batting practice towards the end of the season, but then maanger Randy Ready wasn't sure how he would handle live pitching after missing a month and a half.
"Our last game, the doctor had given him the green light to go again," 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready said. "I don't know if we would have advanced if we would have activated him. I think with six weeks off, his timing was going to be a little roughed up. We were erring on the side of caution with him and making sure the wound was completely closed after they did everything, and he was going to be ready for Instructional League."
"It was sad to lose that guy," 2006 Fort Wayne hitting coach Max Venable said. "He is such a great kid. Just his presence on the field, being as big as he is, and being young and very competitive. He had an outstanding year."
The injury does not diminish a fine season for the 19-year-old. One-third of his hits went for extra bases, a number that many expect to increase exponentially as he matures. He collected 52 RBIs, hitting .304 with runners in scoring position, and maintained his consistency for much of the season.
At first sight, Blanks doesn't necessarily look like he can even hit. He holds the bat like Paul Bunyan held his axe, resting the massive barrel on his shoulder as the pitcher goes into his windup.
"You are talking about a big boy and a very athletic young man," Ready said. "He got off to a nice start for the first couple of months and then lost some confidence, as is part of the cycle of a hitter, and then started to regain it after a two or three week period and was on his way up when the ankle injury hits, which would have been about the end of July."
When the ball is released he springs into action with quick hands, propelling his massive girth forward. For such a big man, his path through the hitting zone is more level than one would expect.
He is a dead-pull hitter, shooting balls into left field with regularity and snapping off sharp grounders to the left side of the infield when he reaches for a pitch he should lay off.
The feeling is his natural strength, as he matures and adds definitive muscle, will increasingly up his extra base hit total. Therefore, the Padres want his approach to stay the same and prefer he doesn't add lift to mess with the current success he is having from a batting average standpoint.
"With him missing time and he slowly got back into hitting stuff and how we talked about the progress of the year and the word adjustment," Venable began. "We kept saying, ‘Kyle, it is all about adjustments.' He said, ‘Max, I really didn't know about that but now I know.' He made some great adjustments during the course of the year to get where he was until he got hurt. He had a great year. It was very disappointing that he missed time."
With a swing based on rhythm and timing Blanks struggles when he is not in the game on a consistent basis. The constant repetition has him seeing the ball better and recognizing pitches.
Blanks regressed some in his strike zone judgment this year. With the pitches coming in a little crisper and the hurlers understanding how they want to attack Blanks, he would fall victim to the sliders away – causing him to reach for the ball, resulting in weak grounders or lazy fly outs.
Given his 6-foot-6 frame, Blanks must be conscious of his strike zone and understand that it is best to lay off the down and away pitch that causes his body to lean forward and send him off-balance.
Surprisingly agile, Blanks has the ability to steal a few bags and take an extra base. He also moves well around the first base bag.
Blanks returned to action at the Padres' Instructional League and struggled out of the gate, his timing off-kilter. He went first-pitch swinging 18 times – more than any other prospect in camp. Ironically, as he progressed, Blanks picked up the pace and became more selective at the dish, averaging a healthy 4.2 pitches per plate appearance.
His hope is to carry over the progression into the coming season.
"I would like to get in better overall shape," said Blanks. "Get faster, quicker, more agile and stronger. Everything that would go into making myself a better athlete. I want to keep all my senses sharp. Keep my quickness with the bat the same, maybe improve on it."
Over the last two seasons, Blanks has been plunked 21 times. He is not afraid to hang over the plate and his big frame is tough to get out of the way.
ETA: Blanks has time on his side and will continue the steady progression this coming season in Lake Elsinore. In the California League, Blanks will be expected to launch more than a few balls out of the park and this year will set his future up – will questions still surround his power game or will he have answered them?