In the fourth inning Sunday’s wild 7-6 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mets utility player Travis Blankenhorn clubbed a pinch-hit three-run home run off JT Brubaker for his first career homer. It was a moment that had to feel especially good for the 24-year-old coming his home state of Pennsylvania.

Not only that, but the long ball turned a 6-1 Pirates lead into a 6-4 advantage, and was a turning point that solidified that the Mets were in it and made the possibility of a comeback feel more real. Simply it was an integral moment in one of the signature wins of the year for this team.

With an extremely limited sample of 13 at-bats, Blankenhorn is batting .231/.286/.615 with the metsand has played second base, left field and right field in 13 games. He has also played a decent amount of third base in his minor league career. A versatile left-handed bat with some power is a valuable player to have on the bench for a contending team (think Kelly Johnson on the 2015 Mets), but the question with respect to Blankenhorn is: can he be that guy?

Thus far, the Statcast data looks good – his Hard-Hit and Strikeout rates compare favorably to the league averages – but on a sample of nine batted balls and 49 total pitches seen in the majors this year, using his MLB numbers this season can’t really tell us anything instructive. Instead, let’s turn to the larger sample of his minor league numbers to attempt to find an answer.

In six MiLB seasons, Blankenhorn has a .256/.326/.434 batting line. But some of that comes from when he was 18 and 19 years old right out of high school, and again does not fully give us the picture of the kind of hitter he is. This year with four different Triple-A teams, he is batting .239/.353/.507, a 90-point jump in ISO from his career numbers.

That feels more accurate for the kind of hitter that he is, despite a small 23-game sample size. He has good power to his pull side, but can also hit with power to the opposite field, though usually on a higher trajectory. Blankenhorn passes the eye test as an .860 OPS guy in Triple-A baseball.

It is not probable that he can recreate that production in the majors the way that he has in 13 at-bats so far, but if his OPS ultimately drops off 100 points lower than his Triple-A levels (to pick a round number), that is still a very productive part-time player when they can fill in multiple different positions. It is also the kind of player that the Mets have sorely lacked for the past few years. Not a difference-maker, but a quality backup.

Looking at the Mets current 26-man roster, his versatility sets him apart from other backup infielders like Jonathan Villar and Luis Guillorme, neither of whom have significant time in the outfield in their recent careers. Jose Peraza saw 38 games in the outfield in 2019 with Cincinnati, but has scarcely payed there in other years. Blankenhorn is probably the weakest overall defensively of this group of four, but his versatility and slugging make him different enough.

That said, there isn’t a ton that stands out about his underlying batted ball profile. Blankenhorn has become more of a pull hitter over the years after having a fairly even batted ball distribution in his first three professional seasons and in recent years has a roughly equal FB/GB%. The upshot is there he has a very standard profile for a hitter in 2021.

The key to Blankenhorn doing enough to stick as a bench bat in the big leagues is going to be his ability to hit a breaking ball. His home run off Brubaker on Sunday came on an elevated fastball, but both of his previous hits with the Mets were against breaking balls, per Statcast.

We don’t have this same level of data publicly available for him in the minor leagues, but in the limited at-bats I’ve seen him live he is a lot like many players – can mash a fastball, but is susceptible to breaking balls, especially ones buried low.

Still a few weeks shy of his 25th birthday, Blankenhorn still has room to grow as a player. This season has been one of starts and stops as he has spent time in the Twins, Dodgers and Mariners organizations before signing with the Mets, and he will certainly benefit from some organizational stability.

Consistent coaching and playing time should help his performance and if it sticks, he could very well become a solid option for the Mets to keep on the 26-man roster for the long term. That answer is still to be determined, but it is one that is worth monitoring as the season progresses.

It is not likely that Blankenhorn will ever be an everyday impact player in the majors, but if he can carve out a niche as a lefty bench player with some pop, that would make him one of the best waiver pickups for the Mets in recent years.

Joe Vasile is a play-by-play broadcaster for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (NYY, AAA) and the host of the baseball history podcast “Secondary Lead”.

2 comments on “Can Travis Blankenhorn be a significant bench contributor?

  • Wobbit

    Blankenhorn’s previous at bat before the homer also looked squared up and on its way out, went to the edge of the warning track in right center… so he has good swing fundies (as Keith would say).

    Looks to me like this Mets season will be all about the Bench Mob. In fact, they really aren’t on the Bench per se. It’s more like a rotation of 12 players instead of just 8. Lindor’s injury only makes that more likely, since he played every inning of every game.

    The outfield looks thin to me now that they lost McKinney. Would they, after Pillar, use JD, McNeil, and even Villar or Peraza out there if pressed? One would think so. I love a team that has fluid parts… just wish Rojas was a guy who knew how to generate offense and make real time decisions… he’s not.

  • Metsense

    After seeing that home run yesterday I had to find out about Blankenhorn. This morning I had my wish come true with this excellent article by Joe. He has some power having hit 19 home runs in AA and A+ in 2019 . He has 3 options so if he can perform and stay on the forty man roster then he should remain the property of Mets for the next few years shuttling between the majors and the minors..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: