The Oakland A’s outfield just got a whole lot, um…larger. On Thursday morning, the A’s acquired massive outfielder and former prospect Kyle Blanks from the San Diego Padres for AAA outfielder Jake Goebbert and a player to be named later. At a hulking 6’6″, 270 pounds, Blanks has obvious power potential, but his major league career thus far has been a disappointment, marred by a general inability to make consistent contact.
Blanks has spent most of the last five years shuttling between San Diego and AAA. Once upon a time, Blanks appeared to be a rising star in the Padres’ chain, putting up solid power numbers while also hitting for a high batting average (he hit .325 as a 21-year-old in AA). Baseball America ranked him as their 50th-best prospect in 2009, and with his frame he appeared to have the kind of light tower power that could make even spacious Petco Park look tiny. He showed tremendous promise in his rookie year with the Padres in 2009, hitting .250/.355/.514 (a 137 OPS+), with ten home runs in just 172 plate appearances. He seemed destined to be a mainstay in the middle of the Padre lineup for a very long time.
Unfortunately, Blanks fell victim to the villain that has derailed the careers of so many promising young sluggers: the strikeout. In his second season, Blanks suddenly developed an utter inability to make contact, and the result was an utter disaster. In 2010, Blanks hit .157/.283/.324 with a whopping 46 strikeouts in 120 plate appearances, earning him a banishment to AAA. To make matters worse, Blanks hurt his arm that summer and had to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery that June.
Blanks resurfaced in 2011, but he only received sporadic playing time in the outfield and at first base, and has never reached his once-lofty potential. In his most extensive playing time, in 88 games last season, he hit just .243/.305/.379 and continued to have issues with contact. In his time in the majors, Blanks has struck out in 30% of his 806 plate appearances. Guys like Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds have put up productive seasons with strikeout rates higher than that, but it’s still hardly encouraging.
Blanks fell victim to a roster crunch in San Diego, as he was out of options and the Padres needed to make room for Carlos Quentin coming off the disabled list. The A’s are hoping that he’ll benefit from a change of scenery, and perhaps thinking that their coaching staff can work with him on his strikeout issues. At 27, Blanks still has time to right himself and realize some of his former potential. Given the A’s recent success with reclamation projects and turning castoffs into gold, he might turn into the next Brandon Moss. At the worst, he’ll combine with the 6’8″ Nate Freiman to make the A’s one of the most vertically intimidating franchises in the league.
Jake Goebbert, the outfielder the A’s sent to San Diego to get Blanks, is a 26-year-old organizational soldier-type who was hitting .257/.371/.505 at AAA Sacramento. He fit the mold of the standard A’s minor leaguer, combining a patient plate approach with a reasonable amount of power and a low batting average. He never had a future in Oakland, given the already-crowded outfield and DH situation, and he profiles as a decent fourth outfielder, at best.