In terms of players on the Padres’ 40-man roster, outfielder Travis Jankowski may be one of the most divisive. Although he has shown some degree of big league success, he has also had long stretches where he has been unable to hit enough to be a big league regular. While some fans think Jankowski still deserves another shot, many have begun to write off the young speedster. With the 2018 season on the horizon, Jankowski may be in a make-or-break year.
Drafted in the supplemental first round by the San Diego Padres in the 2012 MLB Draft, Jankowski has had quite an up and down professional career to date. Out of college, it was clear that Jankowski was a glove/speed first sort of player with large strides to still make at the plate. After only two games in rookie ball following the draft, Jankowski played in 59 games with 256 plate appearances in Low-A. Over those games, Jankowski showed the type of player he was: with great speed (17 stolen bases) and defense and struggles at the plate, as evidenced by his .282/.318/.370 slash line. It’s never good when a player’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage are that similar, and that has almost always been the case with Jankowski.
Jank followed his 2012 performance in Low-A with a full season in High-A with the Lake Elsinore Storm. Even with the move up to the new level, Jankowski put up a very similar stat line, with an identical 93 wRC+ and similar slash line (.286/.356/.355). However, Jankowski did take a strong step forward in his overall development with a four percent increase in walk rate accompanied by a jump in stolen bases to 71. At this point, it was pretty clear that that was the exact profile that Jankowski would need to succeed at the higher levels of the minors and into the big leagues as well.
After beginning the 2014 season in Double-A, Jankowski was sidelined for most of the first half of the season with a broken wrist following a collision with the outfield fence. Jankowski rehabbed in rookie ball, short-season ball, and High-A before eventually making his way back to Double-A before the end of the season. With just over 100 plate appearances in Double-A for the year, it’s hard to read too much into Jankowski’s numbers for 2014. However, it is clear that he took a step back at the plate from his performance in previous years.
Going into 2015, Jankowski certainly had a lot to prove after his wrist injury derailed his 2014 season. For some reason, Jankowski looked like a whole new player at the plate. Over his first 321 plate appearances back with the Missions, Jankowski slashed .316/.395/.401 with a 127 wRC+, which was a huge step forward from any of his previous offensive performances. Jankowski was then promoted to Triple-A, where he was even better, slashing .392/.464/.495 in just over 100 plate appearances with the El Paso Chihuahuas. More importantly, Jankowski also increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate at both levels. It’s always critical to take note of the hitting environment when talking about the Pacific Coast League, but Jankowski showed much improved offensive performance in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2015.
Fresh off such a strong showing in both Double-A and Triple-A, Jankowski got his first big league call-up in late August. However, Jank was unable to match his previous offensive success, slashing just .211/.245/.344 with a 62 wRC+ in just under 100 plate appearances. Even more concerning was the nearly seven percent drop in his walk rate and doubling of his strikeout rate from where he was most recently in the minors. While Jankowski was solid enough in the field and on the bases, it was pretty evident he was overmatched at the plate.
Despite those struggles in the back leagues in 2015, Jankowski began the 2016 season on the Padres 25-man roster. After starting the year as a backup, he eventually became a starter after an injury sidelined one of the Padres’ starters in the outfield, Jon Jay. Jankowski started for most of the rest of the season, with 383 plate appearances and a .245/.332/.313 slash line. Jankowski was noticeably better than he was at the end of 2015, but his offense was still a step below where the Padres wanted it to be. However, Jankowski did provide a lot of value on the bases and in the field, ending the season over 2.0 fWAR despite playing only part of the season and struggling at the plate. Even with the poor offense, Jank seemed to do enough to warrant more starting consideration going into 2017.
Despite a moderately successful 2016 season, it seemed like fans weren’t expecting much out of Jankowski in 2017. The opening day starting left fielder, Jankowski struggled for a few weeks of the season before fouling a ball off his foot and being sidelined with the injury. After initially being called a bone bruise, Jankowski’s injury seemed to worsen when he was rushed back. By the end of April, Jank was placed on the disabled list with a hairline fracture in his foot. In his absence, the left field job was truly taken over by Jose Pirela. Jankowski didn’t return to the field until his rehab assignment began in July, but he didn’t end up back in the big leagues until after the El Paso Chihuahuas had completed the Triple-A playoffs.
When all was said and done, Jankowski had only 87 big league plate appearances in 2017, slashing just .187/.282/.213. Even more alarming, Jankowski slashed just .266/.350/.317 with an 81 wRC+ in second go-around in Triple-A. With Pirela excelling in his absence, it was pretty clear that Jankowski had taken a significant backseat by the time he was back with the team.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Going into 2018, Jankowski once again finds himself on the outside looking in. Not too unlike 2016, Jankowski will likely have to wait for an opportunity to arise before he can find himself back in the mix for consistent at-bats. Until then, Jankowski looks to be a fourth or fifth outfielder at best, with some serious competition from both Alex Dickerson and Franchy Cordero for even that spot. Throw in Matt Szczur, and it’s hard to see how Jank fits in not just next year, but long-term. Given that Jankowski and Cordero are kind of redundant, with Cordero being younger and with better power numbers, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jankowski is no longer a San Diego Padre by 2019. Until then, Jankowski will once again have to wait his turn in a crowded Padres’ outfield.