Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
It wasn’t long ago that Sam Travis was a humdrum second-round pick out of Indiana.
The Red Sox selected the first baseman 67th overall in 2014, and at the time there was reason to think little of the selection. BP’s Chris Mellen’s initial assessment of Travis was a potential part-time player with an ETA of 2018. His hit tool was average, like the rest of his game, and it seemed likely to translate to the professional level. Other than that, there was little of note in Travis’ profile.
Expectations have changed some since then. Two years into the system and Travis already has Double-A experience and sits at No. 7 on Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects list thanks to a breakthrough 2015 season in which he consistently tore up pitching at both the High-A and Double-A level. Now he’s a legitimate prospect at 22 years old with a real shot at becoming a major leaguer.
Travis may not be a household name like a Yoan Moncada or Rafael Devers, but in 2015 he established himself as a noteworthy player with plenty to like as he tries to ascend through the organization in the coming years.
What went right
Travis got off to a fast start last season, slashing .313/.378/.467 in 66 games in High-A Salem before being called up to Portland at the end of June. He didn’t slow down in Double-A, either. Travis sported a .297 TAv in 281 plate appearances and, as Alex Skillin mentioned in September, reached base safely in 59 of his 65 games. Part of that success had to do with his improved plate discipline. Travis posted a 9.4 BB% and 15.5 K% during his Salem stint. Those figures improved to 11.7 percent and 12.1 percent in Portland. Scouting reports on sites ranging from BP to Sox Prospects have lauded Travis for his knowledge of the strike zone, so these numbers simply represent a strength of his. However, the advancement in that ability is worth noting given those numbers have improved since Low-A Greenville, and he’s since faced better pitching with each level and has yet to be hindered by it.
Mellen’s initial scouting report pointed to Travis’ glove as a strength, acknowledging his range in both directions, his improvements scooping balls out of the dirt and his potential to grow in the field. Travis’ 8.7 FRAA in Portland last season suggests he’s continued to make strides as a first baseman.
What went wrong
Travis is 6-feet, 195 pounds, and, as Mellen wrote in 2014, is strong with well-defined forearms. That makes his nine home runs between Double-A and High-A last season disappointing. It’s not surprising, however. In fact, it’s consistent with how he’s produced since college. He hit a combined 31 home runs over three seasons and 721 at bats, belting a career-high 12 homers as a junior in 2014. He hit a combined seven home runs between Lowell and Low-A Greenville in his first summer in the system.
Travis is built like a power hitter, or at least someone capable of hitting double-digit home runs annually, but has yet to perform like one in the minor leagues. One reason for Travis’ lack of power may be the inconsistent lift on his swing. As BP’s scouting report from 2014 notes, his swing “at times shows upward plane and then at times is very level or chops.”
Given Travis’ high average and strikeout-to-walk ratio, perhaps his lack of power is ok. He’s certainly not swinging for the fences, so it’s unfair to expect Chris Davis or Mike Napoli-like power numbers. But there’s still little excuse for a first baseman of his size to not be reaching double-digit homers per season. You don’t have to be a masher to survive at first base, but not hitting for power puts a ton of pressure on the rest of Travis’ game.
Outlook for 2016/MLB ETA
Last year’s effort accelerated Travis’ projected minor-league journey to the point where we may see him in Boston in 2016. That’s no joke. Sox Prospects’ projected 2016 rosters has Travis as the starting first baseman in Double-A this season, with the only thing standing between him and a starting job in Pawtucket being Allen Craig. It’s not unrealistic to think Travis can overtake Craig— a 31-year-old afterthought in the organization — by midseason if he picks up where he left off last year and perhaps can up those power numbers. That puts him on a fast track to a late-season call-up, even if it’s just for a few games.
Travis was impressive last season. This season is about showing he can hit consistently in the upper minors, which is just as important as his breakthrough effort. Now that a big-league career seems like a real possibility, it’s worth seeing how his power develops and what kind of impact it has on his approach. He’s hit his way toward major-league potential. Now he needs to muscle his way into a long term major-league career.
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