Blanks owes much to Padres scout
Former area supervisor discovered talent in small town
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It only makes perfect sense that Kyle Blanks' hometown of Moriarty, N.M., is known as the "Crossroads of Opportunity."It was six years ago when Blanks was a senior playing for the Moriarty High Pintos -- named for the horse, not the beans -- when he made the difficult decision to pass on an opportunity to play baseball professionally. Looking back now, Blanks, who will be the Padres' Opening Day left fielder, couldn't have asked for a better fortune. "I don't think that I would have done very well had I signed out of high school ... and I don't think I would have been where I'm at now," Blanks said, standing inside a nearly empty Padres clubhouse. Of course, things eventually worked out fine, thanks in large part to then-Padres scout Jake Wilson, who championed Blanks' ability on more than one occasion to his bosses and forged a personal relationship with him. It all started in the summer of 2003 when Wilson, then an area scouting supervisor for San Diego, was tipped off about "a kid he should take a look at." The player was Blanks, who was between his junior and senior seasons at Moriarty and was playing summer baseball. Moriarty is located about 20 miles east of Albuquerque, far enough away from any baseball hotbed. "It could have been the town I grew up in, but there just wasn't a lot of awareness of pro baseball and how the process went," Blanks said. "Now, there's a lot more exposure on the Draft and the tournaments leading up to it. "I didn't know much about that or have the money to put into that kind of stuff. So I went to the tournaments I could." It was at a summer tournament where Wilson first saw Blanks. The image is one that he won't too soon forget, watching Blanks, who wasn't too much smaller than his current frame of 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, essentially float around the diamond with ease. Wilson marveled at how Blanks, for his size, could play shortstop with nimble footwork and how he could pitch, topping out at 86-88 mph. Most of all, it was Blanks' superior athletic ability for someone his size that made a big impression.
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"He was the biggest kid I ever scouted, but he wasn't just big, he was really athletic and he had these big soft hands and also a good approach at the plate," said Wilson, now an area supervisor with the Tampa Bay Rays."He could run well, too. But the one thing he could always do was hit." One of the first times Wilson watched Blanks was at a summer tournament where there was a home run derby. Blanks never got much of a chance to hit, after the pitcher who was throwing batting practice in the derby struggled mightily with his control. "He was throwing them all over the place, bouncing them," Wilson said. "I pulled Kyle aside and asked if I could throw him B.P. He started blasting balls left and right. That was the start of our relationship." The relationship between Blanks and Wilson didn't exactly follow the same lines as the ones forged between other players in the Padres' clubhouse and the scouts who pursued them. This was different. "He was my biggest fan," Blanks said. "He wanted me to play as much as I wanted to play." Wilson followed Blanks throughout his senior season at Moriarty. They talked on the phone frequently. Wilson visited Blanks' home in Moriarty. What do you need to know about Moriarty? "If you blink, you'll miss it," Blanks said. "I think we're at three stoplights now ... two of which were put in when I was in high school." Along the way, Wilson had other members of the scouting department like Chris Gwynn, Chief Gayton, Scott Littlefield and Dave Lottsfeldt watch Blanks play. "They all had a similar reaction to mine," Wilson said. At one tournament in Las Vegas that Wilson and Gwynn, who is now the Padres' director of player personnel, attended, Blanks happened to have an off day at the plate. "Kyle came up to me after the game and said he would call me that night," Wilson said. "He called and apologized for the day he had at the plate and said it wouldn't happen again." Wilson had already been sold on Blanks' ability. Now he was sold on his character, too. The Padres drafted Blanks in the 42nd round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft and, at the time, essentially knew he wouldn't sign. Blanks had signed a letter of intent to play for the University of New Mexico but settled on Yavapai Junior College in Arizona. Since the Padres controlled his rights, he couldn't sign with another team unless he opted to go back in the Draft in 2005. These were the old draft-and-follow rules that have since been abolished. Blanks blossomed as a player at Yavapai, hitting .440 with 25 doubles and 47 RBIs in a wood-bat league. Before the June Draft, the Padres signed Blanks to a $260,000 signing bonus, roughly fifth-round money since the expectation was if Blanks went back in the Draft, that's essentially where he would be taken. From there, Blanks blossomed. In his fifth professional season, after posting strong and steady offensive statistics, a .304 career average, .393 on-base percentage and a .505 slugging percentage, Blanks debuted with the Padres last summer at the age of 22. Now 23, Blanks is hitting .429 this spring and looks like a middle-of-the-order fixture for years to come, offering raw power with enough athletic ability to handle a position change (first base to left field) but also enough speed to leg out an inside-the-park home run like he did last summer at PETCO Park. "If I said I knew what Kyle would become, I would be lying," Wilson said. "I think that we were fortunate enough to get him. It was a real team effort on our part, not just me, but all of the scouts who saw him."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.