SBU's Travis Jankowski steals spotlight

Travis Jankowski heads to third base during game

Travis Jankowski heads to third base during game action at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore. (June 16, 2013) (Credit: Mike Norkin)

A swimming pool did something the entire California League couldn't do this season: Stop Travis Jankowski on the basepaths.

The former Stony Brook University outfielder already had stolen 71 bases in 122 games for the Lake Elsinore Storm through Aug. 18 when an accident at a pool put him out of commission for the rest of the season.

"It was just a sprained ankle," said Jankowski, who has been thrown out 14 times. "Nothing that caused any serious damage."

Entering Friday, Jankowski's stolen-base total was the third-highest across all of Major League Baseball's minor-league levels.

For further perspective, the major-league leader entering Friday was Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury with 50.

In three years at Stony Brook, the 6-2, 190-pound Jankowski stole 79 bases in 167 games, including 36 in 2012. But the reason for this season's total is no mystery.

"I've always been a base- stealer," said Jankowski, 22, drafted in the first round by the Padres in 2012. "I think the main thing is just playing a lot more games in the minors."

Jankowski credits Padres baserunning coordinator Glen Barker with his ability to swap bags in bunches.

"The first thing he did was get me to take a bigger lead," Jankowski said.

According to Jankowski, the "mental side" of base- stealing is just as important as speed and timing.

"A lot of it is just paying attention to the pitcher when I'm not on base," he said. "I try to see what routines and patterns he falls into."

Once he gets on the field, his job turns from research to implementation. First, there can be no stealing without a trip to first base. In 493 at-bats, Jankowski hit .286 with a .356 on-base percentage.

When he arrives at first, the mental side of bag theft moves into its second stage.

"The first thing I try and do is get the pitcher to throw over so I can see his pickoff move," Jankowski said. "If the pitcher is slide-stepping to home plate, I usually shut it down. I'm not going to steal a base because it's a quicker delivery and the catcher is going to get the ball faster. If the pitcher has a high leg kick and his delivery to the plate is longer than 1.3 seconds, that's usually a good chance to get a stolen base."

While the catcher plays an important role in preventing thievery, the man behind the dish is only a passing thought in Jankowski's mind.

"For the most part, I steal bases off the pitcher and his delivery time to home plate."

Once his ankle heals, Jankowski will focus on offseason training.

His goals for the winter? Said Jankowski, "Keep getting faster, bigger and better."

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