Hankins Finding His Groove In Akron

It can be seen time and time again with players trying to find their place on a team. Sometimes you’re moved around the diamond until you find your home; for others it’s moving around in your spot in the lineup to find out where you’re the most comfortable.

Sometimes, you get a little of both. For Todd Hankins, he’s experienced both position changes and lineup mix ups during his time at Akron. It looks like now though that he’s finally found his home, and some comfort, at the plate.

Hankins has been a member of the Cleveland organization for quite some time now. After being drafted by the Tribe in 2011, Hankins is now in his sixth season for the Indians. He began his pro career at the age of 20 where he played 65 games with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. During that span, he hit .246/.318/.354 with four home runs, ten doubles, three triples, and drove in 43 runs. He also swiped 14 bags.

He then moved on to Low-A Lake County in 2012 where he spent 78 games with the Captains. He was then pushed up to High-A Carolina for a total of 24 games. Between the two clubs, Hankins hit .237/.328/.358 with five home runs, 15 doubles, six triples, while driving in 37. He’s never been a high average type of player, but Hankins isn’t the kind of guy you bring on to the team to hit for a high average. That’s not how you get use out of his most valuable tools: speed and versatility.

The progression of Hankins through the system moved fairly slowly, as he spent more time at Low-A Lake County in 2013. He was later moved up to High-A Carolina again that season, and split the season in half between the two clubs. He struggled fairly mightily for both clubs as he batted above the Mendoza line for the season at .220/.322/.318. Despite his low average, Hankins still kept a solid OBP, which makes him valuable.

In 2014, he started his season with High-A Carolina for the first time. It looked like things started to click for Hankins at Carolina as he hit .258/.327/.390 with five home runs, 21 doubles, five triples, and drove in 42. He also stole 25 bases, and struck out 96 times to 31 walks. During his time in Carolina, he spent 46 games manning center field for his first large chunk of outfield time in his pro career. This was the beginning of Hankins adopting the ability to be a utility player to find his way into a lineup.

His versatility earned him a promotion to Double-A Akron at the start of the 2015 season. While slated to be the everyday second basemen, his natural position, Hankins wanted to expand his horizon as he did in Carolina. In 2015, Hankins spent 86 games at second, 13 games at center field, two games in left, one game in right, and eight games at shortstop. His versatility made him a powerful tool for the lineup as it allowed manager Dave Wallace to mix up his lineup as he wanted to allow other players to get their at bats in, while also keeping Hankins in the lineup.

The 2015 season has been Hankins best season his pro career. He was brought on to the All-Star roster, he asked to join the Arizona Fall league, and he hit a career best .261/.313/.369 with six home runs, 20 doubles, and five triples. He also had 36 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Despite finding a better batting average at Akron, he also struck out 105 times while only walking 31 times. His K% sat at 21.6%, while he was only walking at a 6.4% clip.

While 2016 may not be looking like it’s been a fantastic season by Hankins, I’d like to disagree. Even though his average on the season is sitting at .238/.304/.356, Hankins has found a sense of consistency at the plate. Over the last 30 games, Hankins has had eleven games where he didn’t record a hit, and only seven where he hasn’t at least been on base. Hankins is well known for being a streaky hitter, but this has been one of the longest streaks in which he’s at least getting on base in some fashion.

Wallace credits Hankins’ new found consistency to the work ethic that he brings to the table.

“He’s done a lot of good work in the cage,” Wallace said in regards to his success. “Pitch selection is one. Staying in the zone, waiting for his pitch, and then staying through the ball.”

Pulling the ball has also been an issue for Hankins, and it’s been showing this season as his K% has risen to 24.1%, almost three more strikeouts per nine innings then the previous season. On the plus side, he’s also walking a full walk more than in 2015. In 2016, his BB% has risen to 7.1%. This goes back to what Wallace said about his pitch selection at the plate. If he continues to improve on his discipline at the plate, the hits are going to continue to keep coming.

Just because the coaching staff wants Hankins to pull less, doesn’t mean they want him to stop. Wallace credits Hankins for having decent pop in his bat.

“He’s got juice,” Wallace explains. “When he pulls it he can jump ship on you, and we like that. We want that to be more of just a reaction. We want him to look out over the plate, and try to drive something over the middle and let his speed play for him.”

Hankins hit six home runs for the RubberDucks last year and he’s already hit five this season. His ISO is up to .117 on the season. His highest ISO (with a minimum of 30 games) was when he was High-A Carolina in 2014 and had an isolated power of .132. If he can continue to hit for power, and use his speed to his advantage, then Hankins can turn himself in a really valuable tool for an MLB team.

At the age of 25 already, Hankins is starting to age himself out of the level that he’s in. The past has shown though that there are many players who break into the league at a later age and really can contribute for a long time. It helps that Hankins has the ability to play all over the field, along with his sneaky power and immense speed. He’s very similar to Mike Aviles and Nate McLouth in this regard. You don’t need to be the best player in the world to make it into the MLB level, you just need to show your organization what you can bring to the team, and how you can affect your future squad.

Right now, Hankins is doing all the right things to make the jump, as he did briefly with a pair of appearances with Triple-A Columbus this season.

Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com

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