Travis Jankowski Sets The Stony Brook Standard
Stony Brook coach Matt Senk doesn't need words to describe the ideal Seawolves player. He can just point to Travis Jankowski.
Jankowski's game is predicated on speed and athleticism, along with plenty of natural hitting ability. The junior broke out in 2011, leading the America East Conference with 30 steals while batting .355/.419/.457. He followed that up by capturing the Cape Cod League's MVP award after hitting .329 with Bourne. A number of other Seawolves also had strong Cape seasons, but Jankowski is the program's gold standard.
"He's a perfect example of what it is that we're looking for," Senk said. "We like athletic kids. We like multiple-sport kids."
Jankowski was also a standout wide receiver at Lancaster Catholic High in Pennsylvania, drawing interest as a football recruit from Connecticut and from FCS schools. For all his accolades on the football field, though, Jankowski was lightly recruited as a baseball player. He went undrafted coming out of high school and wasn't pursued by any major conference programs.
"For me, it was either play baseball at Stony Brook, play baseball down south at a community college or play football somewhere," Jankowski said. "Those were about the only options I had."
Initially, Jankowski was torn about which sport to pursue, but his high school coach convinced him he had better career prospects on the diamond. The Seawolves' coaches had noticed him initially at a high school showcase in Florida and showed film of Jankowski to Senk. The outfielder jumped out immediately.
"For us as a mid-major, projectability is extremely important," Senk said. "His speed was an attribute that we loved, and then his athleticism and his projectable body."
Throughout Jankowski's freshman year, his upside was apparent in flashes, but consistency was a problem. The Seawolves' coaches had penciled him in as their starting center fielder as a freshman, but his playing time fell off once the team got into conference play. Although Jankowski appeared in 47 games as a freshman, he made just 23 starts and batted .262 with 13 steals.
"There were signs—a couple at-bats here or a BP there—that you knew it was in him," Senk said. "There was no doubt it was there. It was just going to be a maturation process."
No Sophomore Slump
Jankowski came to Stony Brook with a closed batting stance and was more of a slap hitter than anything else. That style had worked for him before, but his coaches knew the lefthanded hitter had the strength to drive balls with more authority than he was showing.
Jankowski worked on evening his stance and improving his bat angle. Along with the mechanical tweaks, he also wanted to be more aggressive at the plate, feeling he had spent too much time waiting for pitchers to make mistakes during his freshman season.
The results began to come during the summer of 2010, when he tore up the Ohio Valley League and earned a chance to play on the Cape late in the season. Assuming the role of the Seawolves' full-time center fielder and No. 7 hitter as a sophomore, he still started the 2011 season slowly, going 1-for-8 in Stony Brook's season-opening three-game series with Florida Atlantic.
Jankowski felt his personal turning point came the next weekend, when the Seawolves visited North Carolina, an eventual College World Series participant. He went 5-for-11 in that three-game series with the Tar Heels. Moreover, he discovered some more tweaks he could make.
"That (series) took a lot of pressure off me," Jankowski said. "I was just able to go out there and relax and play. I had some video done of me down there, and I looked at that and saw a couple corrections."
From that footage, he noticed his hands were up too high and he wasn't getting his front foot down early enough. Senk lauds Jankowski as a tireless worker, and though he won't produce much in the way of home run power—he hit just two last year—he hits hard liners consistently. His speed and gap-to-gap pop helped him lead the Cape League with seven triples last summer.
Entering his junior season, Jankowski faces a couple of fresh challenges. The first is he'll be moving up to be the Seawolves' leadoff hitter, though he got his feet wet hitting leadoff with Bourne. The second is that he's entering his draft year.
"We certainly have had players (in the past) that have had strong pro interest, but this has been something at a level that we haven't had with any other player," said Senk, who coached Joe Nathan in the mid-1990s. "There's been a lot going on, but he's been very good with that."
In the meantime, Jankowski says the Seawolves don't want to just get back to a regional but win one, which would be a first for a program that just began competing in Division I in 2000.
For Senk, he's going to enjoy the time he has left with his star center fielder.
"He's just one of the most exciting players that we've ever had here," Senk said. "I find myself a lot of times not only enjoying coaching him, but I become a fan sometimes just when he's running the bases or stealing bases or tracking baseballs down he has no business tracking down."