Versatile Blankenhorn eyes consistency in AFL

October 24th, 2018

Want to know which half of the season it is? Just check out which side of the infield Travis Blankenhorn is on.
The Twins' No. 18 prospect, like many, sees time at multiple positions. But rather than toggle back and forth, the organization has more or less made him a full-timer at each spot for half of the year.
"The past two years, I kind of started at third base for the first half, then the second half I moved to second base," said Blankenhorn, who is playing both spots for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. "It's been good. Just trying to get myself in the lineup is why I like playing different positions. Whatever can get me in the lineup."
Arizona Fall League overviews for all 30 teams
Blankenhorn's production in the lineup was also split into two distinct halves in his first year in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. The 2015 third-round pick out of the Pennsylvania high school ranks was solid in the first half with a .270/.329/.447 line, leading to an All-Star nod for the second straight year. Those numbers plummeted to .194/.272/.333 in the second half.
The main culprit, Blankenhorn thinks, was the swinging and missing more later in the year. While he struck out in 28.7 percent of his at-bats, he was at about 27 percent in the first half and above 30 percent in the second, something he's working on this fall.
"I'd say getting out of the game plan a little and trying to force things I didn't have to," Blankenhorn said in explaining the strikeout jump. "I think I struck out a lot more in the second half, which, ultimately, made my average go down a lot more. Trying to limit the strikeouts will be helpful for me. I'm trying to be more consistent."
While things didn't go according to plan personally for Blankenhorn in the second half, he was proud to be part of an impressive run by the Fort Myers Miracle in the latter part of the year. Midseason promotions brought top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff to the club, and that helped the Miracle go on to win the FSL title.
Blankenhorn, who did his part by hitting .350 in the postseason, loved the ride with his teammates and what it could mean in the future in Minnesota.
"[Kirilloff], he can hit with the best of them. It's been unbelievable to watch him hit," Blankenhorn said. "Royce, the past few years, I got to play up the middle with him, so it's been a lot of fun.
"I think there's a core group of guys, we've been playing with each other the last few years, and it's been a lot of fun. And winning a championship this year, I think that says a little."
Twins hitters in the Fall League
Jaylin Davis, OF: With big power, especially to the opposite-field gap (right-center), Davis is continuing to work on refining his overall approach. His improvements in both walk and strikeout rates in 2018 allowed him to reach Double-A for the first time.
Luke Raley, OF: The Twins got Raley from the Dodgers in the Brian Dozier deal, so they got a slightly longer look at him this fall before he was removed from the Salt River roster on Wednesday. He's a grinder who runs better than expected, has above-average pop, gets the job done in the outfield and gives consistent professional at-bats.
Brent Rooker, 1B/OF: Rooker was slated to attend the AFL, but a sprained ankle during mini-camp sidelined him. There was hope he'd reach Arizona late, but the Twins have elected to shut him down for the year.
Twins pitchers in the Fall League
Griffin Jax, RHP: The Air Force product is now in the World Class Athlete Program, so active duty or other military responsibilities are no longer a concern. He's making up for some lost innings this fall as he prepares for what really will be his first full season in 2019.
Hector Lujan, RHP: The right-handed reliever has pitched well in Class A ball over the last several years. Working on overall command of his 92- to 95-mph fastball and hard slider in the AFL should ready him for the test of jumping to Double-A next year.
Devin Smeltzer, LHP: The southpaw had been a starter at the outset of his career with the Dodgers, but he began making the transition to the bullpen this season when he was sent to the Twins in the Dozier deal. He's deceptive with a cross-body delivery, a solid cutter and a bulldog mentality on the mound.