Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Sam Travis.
Sam Travis has been on the radar as a future major-leaguer for the past couple of years and has been a fast-riser through the system since he was drafted in the second round in the 2014 draft. Finally, in 2017, Travis did enough to get the call into the majors, and while he is not yet a consistent major-league player, this is certainly a year that he will never forget. Of course, as things generally tend to go with Travis so far in his young career, things got off to a roaring start in spring. This is where the hype really built up, and it became a possibility in camp that the first baseman was going to get the call at some point in 2017. It’s still really hard to know how seriously we should take spring training performances — and it’s this writer’s opinion that we overrate Travis in general — but he did hit .318/.400/.591 over 21 games and 48 plate appearances.
As far as what happened in the season, there really wasn’t a whole lot of good on the field for Travis. One thing he did excel at, however, was hitting against left-handed pitching. I think, if we’re being realistic, Travis’ most likely outcome as a major leaguer will be a right-handed bat off the bench who can grab some starts against southpaws, and he continued to prove that in 2017. In the majors he had 48 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, hitting .381/.458/.500 for a 161 wRC+. Of course, this came over a small sample size and was partially fueled by a sky-high batting average on balls in play. He also had 120 plate appearances against lefties as a minor leaguer and hit .314/.300/.505.
Finally, we have Travis’ first exposure to the majors this year. Travis’ performance in spring training, when fans are full of optimism, is part of the reason for his popularity among the fans. Another reason, at least as I speculate it, is that he was red hot when he was first called up to the majors. We all know how important first impressions can be, and Travis undeniably made a great one. His first call-up was only six games and 19 plate appearances, but he had eight hits and two doubles in that span. All told, he finished that short stint with a .471/.526/.588 line. He wasn’t able to keep that up through his other stints in the majors, but his performance in late-May and early-June left quite the impression.
While there were plenty of encouraging developments off which Travis can build as he tries to further his major-league career, there were also some discouraging trends in 2017 that muddy the picture that is his future. First and foremost, as has been the case for essentially his entire professional career, was the lack of power. Travis is getting some time in the corner outfield, but given his defensive profile almost all of his value is carried in his bat. Those types of players really need some power to get by, and if they don’t have above-average power they need to combine average power with an elite hit tool. Travis doesn’t have that, but he has the potential for above-average power. It just hasn’t translated into games. This past year, he posted an Isolated Power of just .079 in the majors and it was also only at .105 in Triple-A.
This has been a career-long trend for Travis, but this year in particular was discouraging. At other points in his career, he was at least able to put up average power numbers in the minors and provided some hope that he could grow a bit in his future and settle into a more acceptable range. This year he took things to a new low, and much of the issue can be found with his batted ball data. Travis simply struggled to hit fly balls in 2017, posting ground ball rates over 50 percent in both the majors and in Triple-A. Obviously, it’s tough to hit for power when the ball is not going in the air. The hope would be that a new hitting coach will be able to find some sort of adjustment Travis can make to get some more power out of him.
Looking at other areas of his game, Travis also struggled with his plate discipline at the major-league level. Over his 76 major-league plate appearances, the righty struck out just under 28 percent of the time and walked just over seven percent of the time. Unlike his power, which I believe is a major concern, I am not all that concerned about his plate discipline. This was a small sample and the first time he was seeing pitching this advanced. He has shown a strong approach at the plate throughout most of his professional career, and I believe he has the capability to make an adjustment and turn things around moving forward. That being said, this had a major effect on his overall performance in the majors.
The Big Question
Looking ahead to 2018
Barring an unforeseen trade, Travis seems like a safe-ish bet to start the year on the major-league roster and spend most of the season there. The hope was that he’d be ready to take on an everyday role by this point (it seems that the team is higher on him than I am, as are most people), but I’d be surprised if that’s still the case. There’s a chance they could roll with Travis and Hanley Ramirez as their first base/DH combo, but that’d be a big risk in my eyes. More likely is that he is a right-handed bat off the bench who will spell Ramirez and whoever they bring in as a first baseman. The best-case scenario for Travis is likely that the Red Sox bring in someone like Lucas Duda and they form a straight platoon.