Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing 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. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
A friend asked me in December via text, “Do we see Sam Travis this year?” I replied, “If we drive down to Pawtucket together.” While I was joking, I was also having a really hard time seeing how he fit into the Red Sox’s plans in 2017. I, like the rest of the baseball world, was waiting for the Red Sox to sign or trade for the “Ortiz replacement.” Instead of making a big splash offensively and signing Edwin Encarncion or trading for someone like Joey Votto, the club went in the opposite direction and traded for one of baseball’s best pitchers.
While trading for Chris Sale was awesome, the team also made the very uninspiring move of signing Mitch Moreland. With only minor tweaks to the roster on the horizon it appears that Travis could be the first bat called upon in the case of an injury. Travis could end up being a much larger factor next season than I first believed.
What went right in 2016
Travis closed out 2015 with a remarkably strong performance in the Arizona Fall League where he slashed .344/.394/.505, the highest batting average for any player with at least 20 games played. As spring training finished up, Travis drew an assignment to play 1B every day at Triple-A Pawtucket. This would be his first taste of International League pitching.
Travis immediately looked like he belonged, slashing a strong .272/.332/.434 while leading the league in RBIs with 29 during his first 47 games. Then injury struck, but we’ll get to that below.
While Travis doesn’t look like a sexy prospect rife with projection he is as safe as prospects come. We know what his hit tool is and that it should play at the next level. In addition to the great batting average, Travis has improved his plate discipline, raising his walk rate every full season while maintaining a great contract rate as well. The ACL injury (again, more below) might be a worry for some players, but we are talking about a first baseman here.
What went wrong in 2016
Soo about that injury … While making a very routine rundown play on May 29th Travis tore his ACL ending his season and any hopes he had of making it to the majors in 2016. Travis never did like being outdone by his old Indiana teammate Kyle Schwarber, who suffered the same type of knee injury the month before. The difference was that Travis wouldn’t make it back in time for the playoffs and would have to wait for 2017.
On the field there was hardly anything to complain about except for the usual knocks; just six home runs and 10 doubles with a modest .434 slugging percentage. If you were looking for a player who was still coming into his power, then you had best look elsewhere. Travis is not about to become a power hitting first baseman; in fact he has never hit more than nine home runs in any given season. On the flipside, he has also never batted less than .307 in any given full season. He is who he is, a guy who will create most of his value with batting average, on-base percentage, and (hopefully) solid defense at first.
What to expect in 2017
Travis is not likely to open up 2017 on the Red Sox bench even if he has a tremendous spring. Two of the bench spots will most likely will go to Josh Rutledge and Brock Holt with their abilities to play multiple positions: Travis has only ever played first base professionally. The third bench spot will go to the backup catcher, likely Christian Vazquez. The last spot figures to go to backup outfielder and Moreland platoon-mate, Chris Young.
Here is where things get interesting. The current platoon has Moreland taking a seat vs. lefties with Hanley Ramirez shifting to first base and lefty-masher Young batting DH (probably, at least). Against righties, Moreland will man first base, Ramirez will be the DH, and Young will ride the pine. Should an injury occur in the outfield I think it is more likely that Travis gets the call than someone like Bryce Brentz. The reason why? Travis mashes lefties and both he and Young are better than Brentz with the bat.
A combo of Moreland and Travis could be good. Moreland has been pathetic in his career vs. LHP with a career line of .240/.295/.378, so letting him take all the at-bats is out of the question. Against RHP he has been much better with a line of .258/.321/.457. Travis has posted the following batting averages vs. LHP from short season ball up through AAA, .422, .406, .294, .370, and .300. Those last two averages came at AA and AAA, this is no small sample. A Travis/Moreland platoon looks like it could be pretty decent should it be forced to occur. It’s good to know, but let’s hope it doesn’t happen.
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