When Travis Jankowski was a youngster growing up in Lancaster, Pa., he didn’t root for a team but rooted for individual players. He admired Derek Jeter but Ken Griffey Jr. was his favorite player.
Like Griffey, Jankowski is a left-handed batting center fielder with speed. Although he hasn’t hit for power in his brief career, the 28-year old is a high quality fielder with potential for more on offense. The Reds gave space in their international signing allotment to the San Diego Padres on Oct. 31 to get him.
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“Ken Griffey Jr. is probably my favorite, growing up,” Jankowski said. “To be able to wear the same uniform is pretty cool. He was definitely a childhood idol for me. I like Derek Jeter for how he stayed out of the media and away from bad press. Griffey handled it the same way. He just went out and played.”
The Reds acquired Jankowski before they signed outfielders Shogo Akiyama and Nick Castellanos.
“I’ve seen him quite a bit,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He is really an elite defender, which is a huge asset. He’s still a young player who is going to help us. I have seen him play the outfield and he is really impressive. People who have seen him play more than I have have raved about his speed and instincts.”
Jankowski was a four-year varsity football player at wide receiver at Lancaster Catholic High School and was two-time all state in baseball. He before he went on to play baseball at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York, becoming the highest drafted player in school history when the Padres made him the 44th player selected in the supplemental portion of the first round in 2012.
Jankowski has just eight home runs in 334 major league at bats but has stolen 62 bases in 84 attempts.
“He can fly,” Bell said. “He’s always been a guy offensively who relied on his speed which makes sense. We all think there is more in there for offense. He is focused on being a strong hitter. We see him more than a guy who just slaps the ball. Speed is a real strength.”
Jankowski has missed a lot of development time with injuries. He was limited to 46 games in 2014. He had a hairline fracture of his right foot in 2017 but bounced back to hit .259 in 117 games for the Padres in 2018. Last season he broke his left wrist in spring training and played in 29 games after he was activated in mid-August.
The Reds have nine outfielders on the 40-man roster. Scott Schebler and Phillip Ervin are out of options and Mark Payton came to the Reds in the Rule V draft. The Reds must keep him on the 26-man roster for the entire season or offer him back to the Oakland Athletics at half of the $100,000 claiming price. Jankowski has his work cut out for him to earn a roster spot.
“Honestly, I’ve had crowded outfields my entire career,” Jankowski said. “It’s always been a competition for me. It is not really a huge adjustment for me. I believe that competition brings out the best in each and every player.”
“I bring a unique skill set. I bring speed, an on-base threat, stolen bases and defending the heck out of the field in all three positions.”
Reds fans may look twice at Jankowski because his long, blond hair and his slim frame has him mistaken a lot for Bronson Arroyo.
“Oh my gosh, during fanfest it was non stop. About 20 different people told me I looked like Bronson Arroyo from the back,” Jankowski recalled. “Maybe Bronson will come to one of our games and we can get a picture together and hang out. I’ve never met him. I watched him a lot growing up. Gosh he was a man. There are worse people to be compared to.”
Cincinnati is attractive to Jankowski as he got a taste of Cincinnati during Redsfest where he broke the ice with some of his new teammates.
“All the guys have been really welcoming, first and foremost,” Jankowski said. “That’s been incredible. I came from San Diego which typically is not a baseball town. I think people go to San Diego for a lot of other reasons. They have a good fan base there but Cincinnati lives and dies for it.”
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