When San Diego Padres and former Stony Brook Seawolves outfielder Travis Jankowski made his MLB debut on Friday, Aug. 21 against the St. Louis Cardinals, he did so in impressive fashion.
The 24-year-old went 2-for-4 with a run batted in and a run scored in the Padres’ 9-3 victory. In doing this, Jankowski became the first Padre since Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn to record at least two hits and an RBI in his big-league debut, and he did so in his first two at-bats.
“It was a great experience and something I will never forget,” Jankowski said to The San Diego Union-Tribune on Friday night. “It’s still surreal.”
Another first for Jankowski was becoming the first ex-Seawolf position player to play in the major leagues. A trio of pitchers, Joe Nathan of the Detroit Tigers, Tom Koehler of the Miami Marlins and Nick Tropeano of the Los Angeles Angels, had previously made it to the majors. But the 2012-draftee became the first everyday player to come out of Stony Brook.
Jankowski played for the Seawolves from 2010-2012 and was a pivotal part of the 2012 team that went to the College World Series. That year, he batted .414 and led the America East in batting average, hits, triples, runs scored and stolen bases, and was named ABCA/Rawlings National Co-Player of the Year.
Other past winners of this award include Toronto Blue Jays pitcher David Price, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey and Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. Of the 16 players who received this award since it was first given in 2001, seven have made it to the MLB All-Star teams.
Jankowski’s elite performances in the NCAA tournament against the University of Miami and LSU helped bring Stony Brook its first ever berth to the College World Series. The Padres took note of this spectacular season, and selected Jankowski with the 44th overall selection in the MLB Amateur Draft that summer. He was the first of seven Stony Brook players selected in that year’s draft and the highest-selected player ever to come out of Stony Brook.
“Travis can go into a major league ballpark right now, run out to center field and play big-league center field for any team anywhere,” Stony Brook head coach Matt Senk said to The New York Post in 2012.
Since leaving the Seawolves, Jankowski has excelled in the minor leagues, batting .293 in four seasons. MLB.com currently ranks Jankowski as the fifth-best prospect in San Diego’s system. Earlier this summer, Jankowski played for the United States team at the Pan American Games in Toronto. The team, which was managed by former Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy, took home the silver medal. Jankowski played a pivotal role in the United States’ semifinal win against Cuba, driving in the game-tying run and scoring the game-winning run in the ninth inning.
After he returned from the Pan-Ams, Jankowski flourished. He batted .392 in Triple-A with nine stolen in 24 games prior to being called up. Such statistics factored into the Padres’ decision to promote him to the majors. “He put himself on a road map and made it easier to make this call,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said of his decision to promote Jankowski, according to MLB.com. “He earned his way up for sure.”
He will split time with the other starting centerfielder on the roster, Melvin Upton, Jr. In his evaluation of Jankowski in The Sporting News, reporter Frank Neville describes him as a speedy, disciplined contact hitter.
“[Jankowski] is not an elite prospect, but he has the tools to be a solid contributor in batting average, on-base percentage, runs and, of course, stolen bases,” Neville said. “With the Padres essentially out of the playoff chase, Jankowski should get an extended opportunity to show what he can do in the last six weeks of the season.”
Many in the Stony Brook community watched closely as Jankowski played his first major league game. The school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were quick to congratulate him, and a story regarding his promotion was the lead on the baseball team’s website. Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler took to Twitter to wish Jankowski well.
“Big congrats… on getting your first hit in your first MLB [at-bat],” Koehler said. “Hope you have a long career.”
Featured photo credit: San Diego Padres/Andy Hayt