Although they weren’t aware of it at the time, the Red Wings received a nice early Christmas present on December 22 when Travis Blankenhorn re-signed with the Nationals on a Minor League free agent deal. The Red Wings 2023 Most Valuable Player had elected to become a free agent in
Although they weren’t aware of it at the time, the Red Wings received a nice early Christmas present on December 22 when Travis Blankenhorn re-signed with the Nationals on a Minor League free agent deal. The Red Wings 2023 Most Valuable Player had elected to become a free agent in October after Washington outrighted him off of their Major League 40 man roster.
If the Pottsville, PA native winds up back in Rochester in 2024, he should provide a big-time power presence in the middle of the Wings’ lineup….at least, based off of his 2023 campaign. Here were Blankenhorn’s 2023 stats before his September 1 promotion to the big leagues: .262 BA, .360 OBP, .517 SLG, .877 OPS with 23 home runs, 75 RBI and 52 extra base hits.
Among Blankenhorn’s superlatives:
• He ranked 12th in the IL in homers, 9th in the IL in slugging percentage, 11th in extra base hits and 17th in OPS.
• His 23 home runs were the most by a Red Wing since Zander Wiel in 2019 and the most by a left-handed hitter for the Wings since Red Wings Hall of Famer Garrett Jones hit 23 in 2008.
• He set career highs in HR, doubles, RBI and walks.
• His 75 RBI were the most by a Red Wings left-handed hitter since Danny Ortiz in 2015.
It’s important to remember that Blankenhorn accomplished those big offensive numbers after a somewhat pedestrian start to the season. Although he did connect for 11 home runs in 63 games, Blankenhorn was hitting just .238 with a .792 OPS at the end of June. When the calendar flipped to July, however, something clicked. Over his next 40 games through August 22, Blankenhorn ripped 11 home runs while batting .313 with a 1.052 OPS. He hit 8 home runs in August alone…the most in a calendar month for a Red Wing since Jaylin Davis (11) in July 2019 and the most in a month for a Wings lefty hitter since his old Syracuse Mets teammate Daniel Palka in August 2016.
Blankenhorn also proved to be one of the best clutch hitters in the International League in 2023 batting .308 with 10 home runs, 21 extra-base hits and a 1.032 OPS with RISP. Among batters with at least 100 plate appearances, he led the league in extra-base hits in those key spots while tying for the second most homers. Dating back to 2005, no Red Wings batter with at least 100 plate appearances has hit as many home runs or hit for as high of a slugging percentage with men in scoring position as Blankenhorn did in 2023.
Clearly, Blankenhorn deserved his September call-up to Washington. Unfortunately, a painful bout with plantar fasciitis limited him to only 10 Major League games for the Nats during which time he hit .161 (5 for 31) with his second career Major League home run…a 423 foot missile at Nats Park off Marlins rookie Eury Perez in Blankenhorn’s first game after the promotion.
It has been a winding road for 27-year-old Blankenhorn. The Minnesota Twins originally drafted the three-sport high school star in the 3rd round in 2015. In fact, he would have been a Red Wings player previously as a Twins farmhand in 2020 had the pandemic not wiped out that Minor League season. Instead, a series of transactions ultimately led him to the Flower City with stints in the Dodgers, Mariners and Mets organizations along the way.
Where will Blankenhorn fit with the Red Wings in 2024? That obviously remains to be seen, but his 2023 season was split between first base and the outfield with 42 starts at first and 57 in the outfield. While he hits left-handed, Blankenhorn throws with his right—in fact, he originally played mostly second base and third base in the Twins system—and he proved to be particularly adept last year in gunning down opposing base runners with extremely accurate throws. His fit for the Wings from an offensive standpoint seems clear though: right smack dab in the middle of the lineup.