Nobody doubted Jabari Blash’s prodigious power. His home runs — he has three of them over the past three days — tend to scrape the sky. And the crack of his bat says it all. It’s a sound the Padres didn’t hear often last year, however. Blash struck out 34 times in his 71 at-bats, clearly overmatched in his first season in the big leagues.
“He brings so much to the table,” Padres hitting coach Alan Zinter said. “He just wasn’t putting himself in the most efficient positions on time. He brings so much power, great plate discipline. But as a whole, we just didn’t feel he was doing it consistently enough.”
For the better part of the past year, the Padres have worked with Blash to improve his timing. They believe he waits too long before committing to swing. By the time he does, it’s already too late.
With a crowded 40-man roster, the Padres designated Blash for assignment during the offseason and were thrilled when he cleared waivers. They brought him into big league camp as a non-roster invite with an opportunity to compete for an outfield job.
On Tuesday morning, Blash approached Zinter with the idea of adding a small step backward with his front foot before his stride — an idea Zinter had previously brought up with other hitters. In Zinter’s words, the mechanics are “a la Sammy Sosa back in the day — an early toe tap in a dance with the pitcher.”
The two worked to implement the toe tap properly, and Blash put it to the test against the Giants later that day.
Since that change, Blash is 5-for-5 with three homers and 10 RBIs. A small sample size, yes, but undeniably impressive.
“It’s helped with his decision-making, the timing of his decision-making. And sometimes with those subtle adjustments, you look up and a guy takes off,” said Padres manager Andy Green. “There was a time when Jose Bautista was not leg kicking. He was a utility infielder.
“Sometimes you don’t realize how close guys are. That’s why we took Jabari last year in the Rule 5. We saw a guy that had tons of potential, still had room for growth. The question is, can we get him to the next step? He’s looked good the last couple days. But sustained success is always the most difficult thing in the big leagues.”
Green has reiterated that final point several times. Last spring, Blash also looked like he had the potential to become an all-world slugger. That didn’t pan out.
Could a simple mechanical tweak change Blash’s fortunes? He isn’t sure. But he intends to find out.
“I’m getting ready earlier, and it puts me in a better hitting position,” Blash said. “… It’s something that’s still a little uncomfortable because it’s new. But it felt great, and it’s something that I’m going to keep working on.”
By AJ Cassavell