Spring Training is a time for getting back up to game speed. Some players try to take it a little easy, but other players don’t know how to shift out of high gear. Travis Jankowski only knows one way to play, and that’s at full speed. While that approach has opened opportunities for the speedy outfielder, in this case it may have cost him a significant chunk of the 2019 MLB season. While making an attempt at a diving catch in Sunday’s game, his glove hand rolled under and he wasted no time in walking off the field. He knew it was bad. Now we know that an MRI has revealed a fracture in his left wrist. There are no reports regarding the location or nature of the fracture, and no prognosis on a timescale for recovery. Wrists take a while to heal, and they take even longer to rehab back to the strength required to swing a bat and handle the kind of athletic catches that Jankowski is known for.
This isn’t the first time Jankowski has fractured his left wrist. In 2014 he sustained a similar injury in a collision with an outfield wall. Game logs aren’t readily available for his 2014 season, but the injury was announced on April 24th and he only appeared in 46 games total that year, so his recovery must have taken most of the season. While that injury may have been more severe than this new one, it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll be out for at least the first couple of months of the season.
The Padres outfield has been the topic of much discussion this offseason, but Travis Jankowski’s role has seemed to be stable coming into spring training. He’s the team’s best defender at all three posts, the speediest baserunner, and is a tough at-bat against right-handed pitching. His value to the team as a reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter/runner may not be as awe-inspiring as a Renfroe roof blast, but the skills that Jankowski brings to the roster are tough to replace. There are internal and external options to cover some or all of the time in centerfield for the Padres this year:
- Manuel Margot is coming into the 2019 season with a need to prove himself. He followed a solid 2017 rookie campaign with a disappointing .245/.292/.384 season, and some are doubting his ability to round into a proper MLB starter. Now without much of a safety net, Margot will be leaned upon to cover most of the innings in centerfield.
- Franchy Cordero is now the lone left-handed hitter among the outfield corps. His raw skills suggest great things, but a proclivity for strikeouts and questionable routes in the field probably had him heading to AAA El Paso to start the season. Instead, he might be breaking camp as the team’s backup centerfielder.
- Wil Myers was the team’s starting centerfielder in 2015, and that didn’t go well, but the team is considering using him in centerfield again. A Renfroe-Myers-Reyes outfield would be a force in a lineup against a left-handed starting pitcher, and in a smaller ballpark where outfield defense isn’t as critical, the alignment might be workable. It’s been suggested that the team had him playing too shallow in 2015, so his work in the middle will be something to keep an eye on throughout spring training.
- Edward Olivares was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason so it’s not unreasonable to think that he might get a call sooner rather than later. The 22-year-old has yet to play above advanced single-A, so it’s unlikely that he’ll see MLB time before September roster expansions if at all this year.
- Boog Powell was signed as a minor league free agent with an invite to Major League spring training this offseason. The 26-year-old has been a centerfielder for the majority of his career and might get a look if he gets off to a hot start in El Paso. He hits from the left side but his bat didn’t speak loudly last year.
- Buddy Reed is also in Major League camp still, but his struggles with AA pitching last season suggest that the speedy switch-hitting centerfielder needs quite a bit of work before getting any consideration for MLB service time.
- Adam Jones and Austin Jackson are among the free agents still looking for work. Both are on the wrong side of 30, but both logged quality time in centerfield last year. Jones is interesting in particular as a San Diego native who idolized Tony Gwynn as a kid. It’s unlikely that the team should look for external candidates given the internal options.
Depth is a key feature for a team, and an injury such as this one highlights that fact. We just assumed that he would be available as the Swiss Army outfielder all season to support Margot & the Thumpers and now the band’s stage doesn’t feel so stable. A smooth recovery might have Travis Jankowski diving for fly balls on the Petco grass by mid-season. The team might need that more than we expected.