The Padres’ marquee big-league addition this offseason was outfielder Carlos Quentin, who was expected to add thump to the offense in his final year before free agency. Some thought the deal with the White Sox on December 31 was odd, considering that San Diego is likely to be a fourth-place team in the NL West this season, Quentin is an iffy defensive outfielder, and his arbitration salary was projected to be in the $6-8 million range (he settled for $7.025 million). But he only cost two middling pitching prospects—Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez—so general manager Josh Byrnes saw little risk and pulled the trigger.
Unfortunately, among Quentin’s many flaws, proneness to injuries may be the greatest. He has never played more than 131 games in a season, has landed on the disabled list four times since his 2006 debut, and has had surgeries on his elbow, shoulder, and wrist. On Sunday, we learned that his right knee is next in line, and the recovery will likely cost Quentin at least the first month of the season.
The news is damaging to the Padres on a number of levels. It leaves a gaping hole in the middle of manager Bud Black’s lineup. It raises questions about Quentin’s ability to cover significant ground in Petco Park’s spacious outfield when he returns, especially because even a healthy Quentin was 4.5 fielding runs below average last year. It reduces his trade value, if Byrnes originally thought the 29-year-old could fetch better prospects at the trade deadline. And it means that someone else will be pressed into duty in left field.
For one player, though, that last part might be a silver lining. When the Padres brought Quentin in from Chicago, they displaced a homegrown slugger with 20 home runs in 482 career plate appearances—a 25-year-old who was once among their top prospects, who has also been plagued by injuries throughout his young career, and who might surprise if given a shot at significant playing time. Barring a surprising surge, the Padres are not going to contend this season, so they might as well see what they already have before their elite farm system starts churning out new crops.
That player is Kyle Blanks. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Blanks hit .229/.300/.406 in 190 big-league plate appearances last year, but he was up to .312/.382/.579 in the upper minors while working his way back from injuries. Blanks is never going to hit for a high batting average—he has 152 strikeouts in the aforementioned 482 trips to the plate—but given a full season’s worth of at-bats, he could produce 30 homers while lumbering around the pastures at least as well as a balky-kneed Quentin. He needed a chance, and now he has it.
With Yonder Alonso and Jesus Guzman battling for time at first base, Cameron Maybin entrenched in center, and Will Venable set in right, Blanks’ competitors for starts in left field are Chris Denorfia and Jeremy Hermida. Given that he’s the only member of the trio with a reasonable chance to contribute to the team beyond 2012, the job should be Blanks’ to lose. Black can shield him from tough righties by offering Mark Kotsay an occasional start, but if healthy, Blanks should see the field virtually every day.
If that happens, April will be a make-or-break month for Blanks, at least as far as his future with the Padres is concerned. He needs to use this opportunity to shed the “Quad-A” and “injury prone” labels that might otherwise stick for the rest of his career. The first hurdle was getting the chance; consider that one cleared. Now, Blanks must seize it to avoid being shipped out of San Diego when Quentin returns.