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Travis Blankenhorn just needs a shot

A fringe prospect of some interest, Blankenhorn is ready for a major league opportunity he probably won’t get.

Los Angeles Dodgers v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Heading into the 2021 season, Blankenhorn was a fringe prospect of note. He checked in at 25th on the Twins top-30 prospect list at Baseball America and 29th on Fangraph’s list, with both outlets pegging him as a future bat-first bench bat with some pop. That made his subsequent odyssey around the league rather puzzling - despite having options, the Twins DFA’d Blankenhorn in early May, and he passed through the Dodgers and Mariners organizations before finally landing with the Mets on June 1st.

The rest of the season was about one would’ve expected from Blankenhorn headed into the season, just not for the same team. He spent most of the year in Triple-A Syracuse, demolishing a depleted slate of Triple-A pitchers en route to a 130 wRC+ and nine home runs in just under 200 PA. His major league time was much more limited - 24 PA across 24 games - but he did tally his first major league home run.

No one should claim that Blankenhorn is a future star. He’s defensively limited, his pop is good but not elite, lefties give him trouble (.699 OPS at Triple-A vs .963 against righties), and he’ll probably strike out close to 30% of the time against MLB-level arms. There’s a lot to like though; good or great statistical performance at every level of the minor leagues, the ability to at least stand at three spots on the dirt, relative youth, and favorable handedness. At this point, what Blankenhorn really needs is a chance for semi-regular playing time at the major league level.

On most Met teams over the past decade - teams renowned for failing to build adequate depth - he’d have had a much clearer path to that role. Now, Blankenhorn faces an uphill battle to even get on the major league roster, let alone see significant at bats. The starting four of Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Eduardo Escobar, and Francisco Lindor are set, with Luis Guillorme, J.D. Davis, Dom Smith, and possibly Robinson Cano all having a better claim to bench spots and part-time opportunities. That picture is likely to change with post-lockout trades and signings, possibly fairly drastically, but it’s unlikely that leaves Blankenhorn any closer to a real major league opportunity.

That’s an unfortunate spot to be in for a player, there’s no other way to slice it, but it’s an excellent situation for the team. Rather than resorting to signing Joe Panik or Jack Reinheimer off the street in response to a rash of injuries, the Mets can call up a serviceable depth player who’s young and talented enough to have some latent upside. If that happens a couple times and Blankenhorn performs well, he could wind up sticking, much like Luis Guillorme as a recent example (though in a slightly different, more defensively inclined role). If not....well, he’ll always have that first home run ball.