FSL notes: Blankenhorn honing his skills

Twins No. 14 prospect focusing on plate discipline in Fort Myers

Miracle third baseman Travis Blankenhorn is tied for the team lead with six home runs and 23 RBIs. (Joshua Tjiong/MiLB.com)

By Kirsten Karbach / Special to MiLB.com | June 5, 2018 10:00 AM

On a June day in 2015, St. Louis Cardinals hitter Matt Carpenter fouled a fastball into the suites at Target Field in Minnesota. An 18-year-old spectator reached up and snagged it on the fly.

That spectator's name was Travis Blankenhorn. Hours earlier, Blankenhorn had inked his name on his first professional contract with the Twins.

"If I dropped it, they wouldn't have signed me," Blankenhorn joked.

The Twins had selected Blankenhorn out of Pennsylvania's Pottsville Area High School in the third round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft. He and a group of other recent draftees had flown to Minnesota the following week to embark on the first steps of their pro careers.

"The experience was great -- Minnesota really made us feel at home there right from the start," Blankenhorn said. "My family was with me, so it was very special to have them there, and it was just a good time being there."

Blankenhorn starred as a three-sport athlete in high school, playing football and basketball in addition to baseball, but had set his sights on baseball long before the Draft.

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"I committed to [the University of] Kentucky when I was a sophomore," he said. "That was pretty early, and after that I was pretty much done. I wasn't looking at other sports."

Ranked the No. 14 prospect in the Twins system, the 21-year-old is in his fourth pro season and has progressed to the Florida State League as a member of the Fort Myers Miracle.

Through his first 49 games, Blankenhorn is tied for the team lead with six home runs and 23 RBIs. He hit .305 in April before a cool-off in May.

"His approach has been pretty good this year," Miracle hitting coach Steve Singleton said. "He's sticking to it, which is the most important thing.

"Approach-wise he focuses on hitting the ball to the middle of the field, and I think that's helped him drive the ball to left and right field. He's had homers probably equally to left and right and center, and hits his doubles all over the yard."

In fact, of his first six home runs this year, the lefty swinger has hit one to left, three to right and one each to left-center and right-center.

Blankenhorn has also worked on his patience at the plate, setting himself up with hitter's counts and limiting his tendency to chase outside the zone.

Last year, Blankenhorn spent a week on the disabled list with a lower back strain, during which time his manager in Cedar Rapids, Tommy Watkins, had him chart pitches from the dugout.

"He didn't want me sitting around doing nothing, not paying attention to the game," Blankenhorn said. "So he'd say, 'If you're going to be hurt and sitting here, then let's try to learn something.'"

Blankenhorn said he took note of first-pitch strikes and, of those, the ones that batters chased outside the zone. It was a lesson in how frequently batters get themselves out.

"I started to learn a little more about some of the pitches that pitchers would throw in certain counts," Blankenhorn said. "I think it was a beneficial thing for me to do."

Singleton agreed.

"His biggest thing that I think he's trying to clean up is staying committed to pitches he wants to hit, and not going out of the zone and chasing pitches," the pitching coach said.

As Blankenhorn strives to become more selective at the plate, the Miracle are not discouraging him from continuing to be aggressive early in the count.

"I think for him specifically, I don't talk too much about trying to work a count because I don't want to take away his aggression," Singleton said. "If you make a mistake early, he'll hit a ball off a wall or over the fence. It's just trying to learn how to harness in that area that you want to hit in, rather than saying, 'Work the count,' just to get him to see more pitches.

"At the end of the day, if he walks more, that's great. And I think he'll do it over time, but in the meantime I still want him with an aggressive mindset and to do damage when he gets those pitches to do damage with, whether it's the first pitch or fifth pitch of the at-bat."

In brief

Draft week: With the MLB Draft taking place this week, five of last year's first-round picks are currently playing in the Florida State League: Charlotte's Brendan McKay, Clearwater's Adam Haseley, Lakeland's Alex Faedo, and Dunedin's Logan Warmoth and Nate Pearson. One other -- Kyle Wright -- pitched in the FSL for the Florida Fire Frogs last year and is currently in Double-A. This year's Draft takes place from June 4-6.

May aces: A pair of Palm Beach hurlers -- Austin Warner and Casey Meisner -- combined to allow only seven earned runs across 58 innings in May -- a 1.09 ERA -- while going 4-0. Warner posted a 0.91 ERA across four starts for the month with three walks compared to 35 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. Meisner finished the month with a 1.27 ERA in five starts, limiting opponents to a .168 average.

June boom: Ibandel Isabel of the Daytona Tortugas opened the month of June with five home runs in a span of four games, including a two-homer performance in game one of a doubleheader on June 1 and another on June 2. Over that four-game span, Isabel drove in 11 runs, including a six-RBI game.

Kirsten Karbach is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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