Jankowski brings speed, energy to Padres
2012 first-round Draft pick called up to replace Venable after trade
SAN DIEGO -- Travis Jankowski was standing in the on-deck circle Tuesday at First Tennessee Park in Nashville, Tenn., preparing to lead off the game for Triple-A El Paso when fate intervened.
"[Manager] Jamie Quirk walked out in front of me as I was headed to home plate and said, 'I can't let you play today,'" Jankowski said. "I was like, 'What do you mean that you can't let me play today?' He said, 'You're heading up to San Diego.'"
Jankowski shot Quirk a dirty look.
"I said, 'Dude ... now is not the time to joke right now,'" Jankowski said, sitting in the dugout of Petco Park on Wednesday morning, wearing a Padres uniform for the first time.
It wasn't a joke, as San Diego officially added the 24-year-old Jankowski to its roster before its 3-2 victory in Wednesday's series finale against Atlanta. The club's No. 5 prospect, according to MLB.com, landed less than two hours before the game and was available to play if needed.
It has been a whirlwind for Jankowski, the 44th overall pick in the 2012 Draft out of Stony Brook University.
Jankowski took a big step forward offensively this season, batting .335/.413/.425 with 32 stolen bases and nearly as many walks (49) as strikeouts (50) at El Paso and Double-A San Antonio.
"[It's been] just cutting down on strikeouts and putting the ball in play," Jankowski said. "With speed being my best tool, any ball I put on the ground, I feel I can leg out. That's what I attribute everything to this year."
Jankowski probably would have arrived in San Diego at some point this season, likely after Sept. 1, when rosters can expand to 40 players. But when the Padres traded Will Venable to the Rangers on Tuesday, it brought the need for an outfielder.
Jankowski, a left-handed hitter, could find himself in a platoon role with Melvin Upton Jr. for the final seven weeks of the season. Presumably, Jankowski would play more for the simple fact that the team would likely face more righties.
"I think that you bring a young kid up like this, he has to play. You don't bring a kid up to sit on the bench," said Padres interim manager Pat Murphy. "I think he will get a lot of playing time, and I think Melvin understands that."
Jankowski is a different player today than the one Padres area scout Jim Bretz first saw when the outfielder was playing for Stony Brook.
"It was really a question of if he was going to hit enough," said Bretz, who scouts the Northeast. "A lot of [scouts] had trouble buying into it."
Bretz saw a raw player who was still trying to find a workable swing, but had plus speed and the ability to handle center field defensively. Bretz recalled a moment that sold him on Jankowski.
"He was at first base and there was a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher, and he made it all the way to third base," Bretz said. "It was like, 'Holy smokes, did I really see that?'"
Jankowski's meteoric rise comes on the heels of a frustrating 2014 season, when he was limited to 46 games after he fractured his left wrist making a catch in center field before running into the wall.
"It was kind of a freak incident. You can always learn from something like that. You can always be more alert in the outfield," Jankowski said.
But the play was indicative of the type of player Jankowski is, according to those who have watched him play. He doesn't disagree.
"I think high-intensity is the right way to put it," Jankowski said, smiling.
Now Jankowski will get a chance to see if his skill set and success in the Minors will translate to the big leagues.
The Padres hope so. This is, essentially, an audition for 2016 for Jankowski, who still had to pinch himself Wednesday.
"Who would have thought I would be here?" Jankowski said.