Roster Advice -- Blanks, the fill-in

Stephen Dunn

Kyle Blanks is hitting well while Yonder Alonso is out -- well enough that it seems likely they'll want to keep his bat around as long as possible.

I've never been much of a video gamer. I know, born in 1983, single white middle-class dude, it doesn't really make sense. But I owned a PlayStation for a month or two, sold it, and haven't had a game system since.

While I had my PlayStation, though, the game I played most often was a baseball one - I think MLB '98, but I honestly don't remember. Whatever game it was, there was a cheat code I found out about. Put it in, and it unlocks a secret roster. The pitcher threw an unhittable knuckleball that danced like a jumping bean. The catcher was so fast that he could bunt and circle the bases before it was fielded. The shortstop carried an eight-foot bat so large that his bunts sent the ball over the fence. And the first baseman was a giant, hulking dude, with the screen going up only to his chest or so, and his swings yielded home runs that traveled farther from the park than the artists had rendered.

It was dumb, because you could play about an inning or two with this roster before realizing you'd win every game with a 150-0 perfecto, and that gets old before too long. But my favorite guy on that team was the first baseman. The giant. He was too big to ever see his face, but I always imagined him as Andre the Giant the baseball player, and I inevitably have an affinity for the big, hulking guys who can hit the ball a mile.

I always enjoy watching Adam Dunn hit. Richie Sexson, Russell Branyan, guys who make the bats look like joke mini bats. Even if they aren't great, it's just funny to watch them, successful or unsuccessful.

I have a new guy I enjoy. Kyle Blanks. He's a freakin' behemoth. And, as long as Yonder Alonso is out with injury (and perhaps beyond, but I'll get to that), he's worth owning in a lot of fantasy leagues.

In 2009, when he was 22, Blanks was ranked as the #54 prospect in baseball by ESPN's Keith Law (behind the pay wall). Law opened with Blanks' size, and revisited that trait three or four times in a single paragraph. But around those references, Law talked about Blanks' surprisingly short swing for a guy his size, his good athleticism, and his raw power. All of those things have manifested themselves so far in his career.

He's a little behind in development now, career-wise - Blanks is now 26, almost 27 - because of a few major injuries, including Tommy John in 2010 and a torn labrum last year. Those injuries (and his associated stunted development) limited Blanks to 146 games in his four seasons leading into this year, including only four games and six plate appearances last year. It's not been the ideal career path for stardom.

This year, though, between injuries to Alonso and Cameron Maybin, the occasional day-or-two-long ouchies to Carlos Quentin, and the fact that the team really needs to get an extra power bat in its lineup somewhere, Blanks has been relatively close to a full-time player, already nearing career-highs in games and plate appearances.

Regular play, it seems, agrees with Blanks. His slash line sits at .270/.354/.487, with eight homers and 26 RBI. With a BABIP that, at .305, is not wildly out of expectations, and a strikeout rate at a career-low, there is some reason to think this might be at least somewhat sustainable for however long Blanks is out there.

The question, then, becomes "Well how long will he be out there?" We always like to talk about Wally Pipp, about a player who misses a few games, loses his starting job, and fades into obscurity. Well, Pipp was 32 when Lou Gehrig took his job, and nearing the end of the road as a big-leaguer. Yonder Alonso, meanwhile, is actually seven months younger than Blanks, and has hit fine so far in his career. When he's healthy from his right hand fracture - which is drawing nearer, as he got his splint removed Thursday and will get a CT scan Monday - Alonso will be a full-time player again.

But, as I said, it seems like what Blanks is doing might be sustainable. While he isn't going to Wally Pipp Alonso, a team like the Padres has to find space for a hitter like that. Whether that means a day a week at first base, spelling Quentin in left any time he has a bugaboo, filling in in the outfield for Alexi Amarista as often as possible, DHing in all interleague games, I have a hard time thinking the Padres won't find some way to keep him hitting as often as possible.

Ray Guilfoyle mentioned Blanks in his Roto Roundup Monday, and basically agreed with me; the Padres are going to play him. Alex Kantecki also had Blanks in his weekly Risers and Fallers Tuesday and, while he wasn't as high on Blanks' hitting ability as I am, did advocate riding his current hot streak as long as it lasts.

Kantecki pointed out that Blanks' ground-ball rate is at a career-high, which would seem to indicate his home-run rate is likely to fall, as it's difficult to keep hitting balls over the fence when you're hitting so many on the ground. While there is some truth to that, I'm skeptical of parsing ground ball/fly ball splits out of a young player who has had only occasional play opens itself up to small-sample and growing-pains problems.

Blanks is owned in 34% of Yahoo leagues, 77% of ESPN. First off, I never understand how those percentages end up so wildly disparate. But that aside, if you're looking for some cheap pop, if you're fed up with Adam LaRoche or want to sit Anthony Rizzo while he works through his current powerless slump, you could do a lot worse than Blanks.

Follow me on Twitter @danieltkelley

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