Cincinnati Reds: Don’t sleep on Travis Jankowski’s sprint for a roster spot

GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 24: Travis Jankowski #31 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 24: Travis Jankowski #31 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Reds outfielder Travis Jankowski offers a key attribute in an odd season.

Speed is an undervalued attribute in baseball. While in football, a wide receiver’s ability to blow the top off the coverage is worthy of a first-round pick, the same cannot be said for burner on the base paths. The Cincinnati Reds know all too well that speed alone is not enough to make a player great; see Billy Hamilton. But, Travis Jankowski‘s great strength could land him on the squad.

Not a lot was made of the Reds acquisition during the offseason. After all, Cincinnati signed power-hitting right fielder Nick Castellanos and Japanese centerfielder Shogo Akiyama over the winter. Both players are expected to be difference makers for the Reds this coming season.

So what value does a player bring with a career WAR of 2.3 who hit just .182 in 25 games last season? While it’s true that Jankowski is not going to wow anybody with his power (he has eight career home runs over five big league seasons), the 29-year-old’s speed sets him apart from any other player on Cincinnati’s roster.

According to Baseball Savant, when Jankowski first broke into the league in 2015, he had a sprint speed of 29.8 feet per second. That ranked in the top 1% of the league. He followed that up in 2016 by averaging a sprint speed of 29.5 feet per second. To put it in perspective, Jankowski’s speed in 2015 was a shade better than Billy Hamilton.

Jankowski’s speed was down a bit last season (27.4 feet per second), but to be fair, he was injured. By comparison, the fastest player on the team last season was outfielder Nick Senzel, whose sprint speed of 29.4 feet per second were in the top 4% of the league. Michael Lorenzen is a burner too, but he’s much likely to see more time on thee mound this season.

Now, why do I bring all this up? It’s not like a career .241 hitter is going to beat out the likes of Senzel or Akiyama or even Phillip Ervin for a spot on the roster, much less playing time. However, with the adjustment to the rules in this unprecedented season, having a burner on base will be a huge plus, especially late in games.

The rule change for the 2020 season that puts a runner on second base to begin extra innings would be a perfect spot to use Jankowski. He could also be an asset late in games if the Reds are trailing. While the stolen base has become a lost art in today’s game, Travis Jankowski may be asked to put his speed to use. Jankowski spoke about this with Mark Sheldon of

"“My goal is to be able to steal a base at a 90 percent clip…For me, that’s my game, that’s what got me to the big leagues. That’s what hopefully keeps me in the big leagues for a while, speed and defense. It even goes to the extra-inning rule. If someone hits a single…I need to be able to score on that. It’s really taking pride in the little things and the baserunning and doing my job.”"

It won’t be easy for Travis Jankowski to secure a spot on the Cincinnati Reds roster. The likes of Scott Schebler, Mark Payton and Aristides Aquino are standing in his way, and all three possess the type of power that Jankowski just doesn’t have.

Reds depth will be a strength in 2020. Next

It’s going to be a sprint to the finish, but Jankowski would definitely win a foot race between those four outfielders. Will Travis Jankowski’s speed be enough for him to make the cut. If not, he does have one minor-league option remaining.