If you spent time reading between the lines of the Red Sox’s decision making for manning first base the last few seasons, you likely concluded the spot was being held for top prospect Sam Travis.
- Offseason 2015: move Hanley Ramirez to first base? Sure, he will only play there for a season before David Ortiz retires, opening up the DH spot, and Travis is potentially major league ready.
- Offseason 2016: sign Mitch Moreland to a one-year deal rather than signing someone like Edwin Encarnacion to a longer deal? Sure, it is only for one season, it lets Hanley focus solely on hitting, and Travis’ timeline was delayed after he tore his ACL.
But now what? Does the front office stay this course and give Sam Travis the position on a full-time or part-time basis in 2018? Or do they shift from it and sign one of J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, or (my preference) Carlos Santana, effectively ending Travis’ shot at a role in Boston? Either way, Travis will soon have a clearer idea about his future with the organization.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The primary positive for Travis was his finally getting the call to the big leagues. He hit really well for Pawtucket in May (.333/.389/.561 in 72 PA), earning his first opportunity with the Red Sox at the end of that month.
He carried his hot hitting in May with him to the big leagues – collecting five hits in his first 12 plate appearances – but cooled off once the calendar flipped to June, and never really regained that May form the rest of the way for Pawtucket or in his subsequent stints in Boston.
If you dig a little deeper into Travis’ performance you find the skill most likely to keep him in the big leagues for an extended period: hitting left-handed pitching. Against lefties in 2017, he slashed .314/.400/.505 at the Triple-A level (105 PA) and .381/.458/.500 in the majors (48 PA). Those aren’t exactly huge samples, but the results don’t deviate from what he has done against lefties at every level throughout his career. His ability to hit lefties opens up a fallback role for him as a right-handed bat off the bench.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Outside of May and against lefties, he didn’t really hit well. He finished the season with a .259 TAv at Pawtucket and a much worse .217 for the Red Sox. Being that he is a first baseman (and maybe a corner outfielder in a stretch) those rates are not going to play. He needs to hit better. Prospect gurus see him as a potentially above-average defender, but he still has to hit much better than he has in order to provide value.
The thing that really sticks out to me about Travis’ underwhelming hitting is that he hit just six home runs last year for Pawtucket and has never hit more than 10 in a season at any level.
All jokes aside on how he fit right in with the 2017 Red Sox, Travis’ lack of power is troubling; especially when it isn’t supplanted with way-above-average contact ability. His power problems in 2017 were not limited to lacking dingers, as he posted the lowest isolated power marks of his career. But I want to stick with the home run thing for another couple of sentences: he also had six home runs in 2016, but did so in just 190 PA, 150 fewer than he needed to get his six last year. Perhaps the knee injury that shortened his 2016 season sapped some of his power potential, or he needs more time to build strength in the knee. Regardless, Travis showing more power would be nice.
WHAT TO EXPECT
As noted at the top, Travis’ role with the Red Sox in 2018 (and beyond) depends on the moves the organization makes this offseason. The scoopers out there suggest that signing J.D. Martinez is all but a certainty. If true, Martinez and Hanley are the primary 1B/DH options, leaving Travis without a spot. I suppose in that situation Travis could take on a right-handed bench-bat role, but it seems unlikely that he would be used to hit for JDM or Hanley. There would also be considerable redundancy with Bryce Brentz, who seems to have the inside track on that job, so I don’t think a bench role like that fits for Travis. As such, it is more likely that Travis spends the majority of 2018 in the minors and/or is included in a trade.
Alternatively, if the team opts to stay away from the splashy signing of JDM and instead sign one of the second-tier left-handed-hitting first base options (e.g., Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, Jay Bruce) then I can see a role with the Red Sox for Travis as the short-side of a first-base platoon. We know he can hit lefties, so that could be his primary gig. Regardless, it seems as though Travis’ future is going to be driven by whichever player the Red Sox bring in to start at first base.
Photo by Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports