I remember my 20th birthday very clearly. My family was living in the Ocala National Forrest at the time in a small town called Fort McCoy and I was on winter break, getting ready to fly back to New York. I remember how adult I felt remembering to return the library book I took out from the Ocala Library before I boarded my flight. School was going well and I was finally starting to do all of the little things in life right like respond to emails within hours instead of weeks, remembering to switch the laundry by using the little clock on my flip phone to remind me of the time, and ironing my shirts ahead of time for work instead of playing Russain Roulette with my closet. I wasn’t so much coddled as a kid but I was enjoying becoming an adult, doing things on time, for myself. Oh, and I had a pretty serious girlfriend. She’d become my wife.
I remember my 20th birthday as as hectic as it was exciting as it was perplexing. I felt old in a good way and my Springsteen albums started to give me a confidence I didn’t have. My Elvis Costello records gave me the swagger I needed for my dates with the woman that became my wife, and, despite being a very early adapter to the Archos Media Player, I was blown away by what my iPod could do. Twenty was cool, twenty was great. I miss 20 but I have been fortunate to keep the threads of 20 woven around me.
So has Andres Blanco.
At age 20, Blanco was a Double-A baseball player. And suddenly, nine days later, a Major Leaguer, just six days after turning 20. Blanco was not a typical international signing and was not a typical 20-year old; he was signed at 18, a little on the older side for an international signing by the Royals out of Venezuela. Blanco hit just .247 from 2002 through 2004 in his minor league stops but his glove played really well. And in his cameo as a 20-year old, Blanco delivered for one of the worst Royals teams I can remember (won just 58 games), hitting .317/.379/.417 in 67 PA.
I could barely remember to wear clean pants to baseball practice at 20; Blanco was hitting Major League pitching after mediocre play in the minors.
The fabric of 20 still surrounds Blanco. Despite his early Major League success on a horrible team, Blanco was yo-yo’ed by the Royals and would play in just 78 games from 2004 through 2006 despite being called up very early in the 2004 season. He’d make a return trip to Double-A and then his first appearance in Triple-A in 2005 long after he’d had a taste of the Major Leagues. For two seasons, Blanco would not see the Major Leagues. In 2009, a just 25-year old Blanco returned to the Majors in May with the Cubs and then had cameos with the back-to-back pennant winning Rangers in 2010 and 2011. Other than a brief rehab assignment, Blanco looked like he had finally established himself as a Major Leaguer with the Rangers.
But the fabric and threads of 20 continued to surround him and his world would be chaos, once more. Blanco would join the Phillies organization in 2012, a team suddenly desperate for infielders, after receiving word that Chase Utley would miss significant time and question marks about the health of third sacker Placido Polanco. Blanco, despite reaching a career-high of 10 homers with the IronPigs would not spend any time with the Phillies in 2012 and would miss the entire 2013 season. In 2014, Blanco returned to pro ball in the states, hitting .241 with the ‘Pigs earning 26 appearances with the Phillies. Blanco played winter ball with Magallanes in his home country of Venezuela and something seemed to click: the now 30-year old hit .293/.383/.415.
Blanco, for the first time since 2011, made a Major League team out of camp with the Phillies in 2015. And something odd happened: Blanco seemingly settled into a chaotic environment and became the best hitter he had ever been. For the first time, Blanco was not part of the chaos by virtue of call ups and send downs but rather his place in a whirling tornado of personnel coming and going around him. Blanco was a Major Leaguer at age 31 once more and he was the best Major Leaguer he had ever been.
In part -time action, filling in across the entire infield, Blanco chased .300 the entire season. Among Phillies with 250 or more plate appearances, Blanco led the team in OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. Among NL players with 25 or more PA, Blanco ranked 25th in OBP, 13th in SLG, ahead of Ryan Braun, Kris Bryant, Andrew McCutchen, and Adrian Gonzalez, tenth in wOBA, and 15th in wRC+. Blanco put up career-highs in every offensive category in a season that was as inspiring as it was strange. Blanco wove the threads of chaos into the fabric of who he is and delivered in his first real chance at extended playing time in the Major Leagues.
Was this the player that had been hidden in the minors all those years? Is there a reason his Major League numbers are better than his minor league number for his career? We will never be able to answer those questions. But for a guy who has spent part of eight seasons in the Majors over 11 years and still has arbitration eligibility, Blanco showed a fabric in his character through his performance that was unexpected at worst and inspiring at best.
Grade: A. This is the second, and likely, final A in the 2015 player reviews. Blanco wasn’t a star but he never intended to be. Instead, the 31-year old finally got an extended crack at Major League playing time and he made the most of it, becoming one of the team’s best and most potent offensive threats. Blanco is arbitration eligible for the 2016 season and likely has punched his tickets to a return trip to Philadelphia in 2016 with his performance in 2015.