Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one overarching question for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go one-by-one alphabetically straight down the roster, and today we talk about Sam Travis.
The Question: Is there even a role left on the Red Sox for Sam Travis?
If it feels like Sam Travis has been around forever, it’s because he kind of has. It’s not that the former second-round pick has been in the pros that long, as he was drafted only in 2014, the same draft as Michaels Chavis and Kopech. What makes Travis feel like he’s been around longer is that he has sort been “on the map” from the very beginning. He was relatively high-profile and polished as soon as he joined the organization, and he spent significant time in Double-A in his first full season as a professional. Getting that close to the majors in short order gets people excited. Just look at Durbin Feltman.
Travis has been on the prospect map even before that first professional season, first appearing the top 20 of Sox Prospects’ list at the end of the 2014 season. The
University of Indiana University product climbed as high as number three in the organization (again, per Sox Prospects) midway through the 2017 season. When you add all of those factors into the fact that he has absolutely destroyed spring training for three straight years prior to this spring, it’s reasonable to expect people to develop expectations for the player.
Of course, we know that Travis has never lived up to said expectations. Granted, he’s still only 25 years old so it’s too early to say he’s a total flop or anything along those lines, but he’s clearly disappointed. He’s never been able to make the final jump needed, and the biggest knock has been that his power never developed. As a (mostly) first-base only prospect, it’s extremely difficult to turn into an average regular without even average power. He’s received 121 plate appearances in the majors over two seasons and has hit .250/.306/.357 with a 75 wRC+. Meanwhile, his wRC+ has trended down in each of his three seasons in Triple-A and his last two Isolated Power marks (SLG - AVG) at that level have been .105 and .102. Those are middle infielder marks. With all of these developments heading in the wrong direction, it’s hard to even see what role Travis will be able to serve for this organization moving forward.
Now, none of this is to say the team needs to move on from Travis right now. The Red Sox have only 38 players on the 40-man roster right now and as of now he isn’t blocking anyone from being added. If that changes then we can revisit this question, but for now Travis is sort of in no-man’s land where he doesn’t have a clear role but is going to stick around because there’s no reason to cut players like him just for the sake of doing it. When you’re able to, it’s better to keep as many bodies around for depth as possible. Still, while he is around, what is his role even going to be?
At one point not all that long ago, the hope was that Travis would develop into the first baseman of the future. Some may still be holding out hope, but there’s little reason to hang your hat on that possibility. In the short-term, clearly Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce have that job locked down for at least 2019. After that, even if both of the veterans leave in free agency one would imagine Michael Chavis is the next man up. He’s still working out all over the diamond, but first base appears to be his most likely landing spot despite being shorter than your typical first baseman. Josh Ockimey also looms as a possibility, though he has issues of his own to overcome before reaching that point. Looking further down the road, 2018 first round pick Triston Casas has the highest ceiling of this group. Travis doesn’t even have a clear path at being on the short side of a platoon since Chavis is just as close to the majors at this point and also hits from the right side.
Along with his natural position at first base, Travis has also worked out in left field over the course of his career. He’s not really athletic enough for this to be a full-time place for him, though he can fake it well enough there particularly in the small left field at Fenway. Still, even there a clear future doesn’t exist. Clearly, the Red Sox outfield is full for at least the next couple of years. The hope is that Andrew Benintendi is the long-term left fielder, of course. The possibility does exist for him to move to center field if/when Jackie Bradley Jr. leaves, but I’d probably bet against that at this point. Even in a backup role, Bryce Brentz and Gorkys Hernández are ahead of Travis at this point. Hell, Tzu-Wei Lin would probably get that job first. Chavis hasn’t been worked out there, though I still maintain that he should get some time in the outfield. It makes as much sense as second base to me. The point is, Travis is buried on this depth chart as well.
Both long-term and short-term, there just isn’t anywhere for Travis to break through for the Red Sox. A rash of injuries and underperformances could certainly change things, but barring something unforeseen if he is going to break through it will probably have to come down to another organization. This brings us to the best-case scenario for both Travis and for the Red Sox: If he mashes down in Pawtucket in the first half, the Red Sox will hopefully be able to add him as a complimentary piece in some sort of midseason trade. Maybe a change of scenery and coaches is what Travis needs to recapture some of his former promise. If that potential is still here, I just don’t see it happening with the Red Sox.