Blanks attempts on-the-job training
Padres first-base prospect makes conversion to outfield
SAN DIEGO -- Kyle Blanks has arrived, bringing his right-handed bat with him, which is the reason the Padres opted to promote their top prospect, especially with six Interleague games on the schedule this week.
But at some point this week, Blanks will need to reach into his locker and grab something other than a bat. He'll have to reach for his first-base glove or the glove that he will use in the outfield, a position he's still trying to learn.
While the 22-year-old was promoted on Friday from Triple-A Portland to inject some production into a struggling offense, Blanks won't have the luxury of being one-dimensional, even as the Padres head to ballparks in Seattle and Texas where they'll have the designated hitter at their disposal.
San Diego general manager Kevin Towers said Blanks will play some outfield, serve as the designated hitter this week and play some first base, giving Adrian Gonzalez a break, perhaps in Texas later this week in the 98-degrees heat.
Blanks, a first baseman by trade, made 15 starts in left field for Portland and got his first start there with the Padres on Saturday against the A's, where the 6-foot-6, 285-pound rookie more than held his own. He started again on Sunday.
Blanks knows he still has a long way to go before he can wrap his arms around his new position and feel entirely comfortable there.
Chase Headley knows exactly how Blanks feels. A year ago, Headley made a conversion that wasn't entirely different from the one Blanks is making now.
Headley had been a third baseman in the Minor Leagues up until last season when he was asked about playing the outfield with Kevin Kouzmanoff already at third base. Of course, Headley had the benefit of learning the position in Spring Training and half a season with Portland.
That helped but, as Headley quickly discovered, he still had a lot to learn and, even to this day, the learning curve continues.
"Anytime you make a position switch, it's never easy, then when you do it at a high level, that makes it tougher," Headley said. "It's just being realistic with yourself ... and having everyone else be realistic about it as well. [Blanks is] going to be fine.
"You have to understand that there are going to be bumps in the road, from my personal experience. You can't let it get to you. You have to get through that."
With Gonzalez, an All-Star last season and a Gold Glove winner entrenched at first base, Towers first toyed with the idea of having Blanks try the outfield late in Spring Training, though he didn't ask him to do so until the season started in Portland. Even there, that involved just having coaches hit him fly balls during pregame drills.
"I've got a lot of advice from [Portland coach Max Venable and manager Randy Ready], and playing next to Will [Venable] was a big help," Blanks said. "If I asked for help, he helped me. I think I made some good progress in that direction.
"I'm pretty comfortable. There's some things I need to work on and was trying to work on. It's a work in progress. I'm still trying to figure it all out."
One of the biggest challenges that Headley faced when he made the move to left field didn't involve going back on balls or coming in on them. It was actually the throws he had to make from the outfield.
"The throw is a lot different. You have to be right over the top. If you're even a little to the side, you're going to get a lot of run," Headley said. "It's a different throw. I think Kyle throws a pretty true ball. That might not be a big issue for him."
Only it was, and Blanks found out the hard way the first time he ran in, bent over and came up firing the ball from the outfield.
"The first couple of throws that I made, I came up and my back was stiff," Blanks said. "It was a throw I really haven't had to make before. Throwing the ball across the infield is a lot different. That's something I've really had to work at.
"If I used too much body, I wasn't using enough arm. If I used too much arm, I wasn't using enough body. It was just trying to find that medium so it would all come together. It's a lot tougher than it looks."
Though not as tough as trying to slow his body down -- Blanks is 285 pounds -- after making a catch or trying to make a hard cut.
"I've had a couple where I would come bolting in and it was a little tougher to hold up than I thought," said Blanks. "But that's another thing I have to work on, getting the right read initially and then try to slow down more efficiently.
"Initially my biggest hurdle was going back. After going back a few times, that went away. Now's it's a matter of getting good reads. Hopefully it will become more of a second nature for me."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.