Regression has not been particularly kind to the 2019 Boston Red Sox. After the 2018 team won a franchise-best 108 games and secured a World Series title, this year’s squad has labored in third place for quite some time and although there is still time to make a run, it doesn’t look like much will change in the next month or so. According to FanGraphs, there is only a 9.8 percent chance that they will play in the postseason.
Despite hurtling back to earth, the franchise is still in a pretty good spot, especially when it comes to the future of the infield. Xander Bogaerts had already established himself as one of the better shortstops in baseball but he’s been on another level this year. Rafael Devers would be more firmly entrenched in the MVP conversation if the Red Sox were closer to the playoffs and he’s only 22-years-old. Michael Chavis slowed down after a hot start to his first season in the bigs, but he has still hit 18 home runs and flashed real promise as a middle of the order bat. Then there’s top prospects like Triston Casas and Bobby Dalbec who are destined for corner spots in the infield.
While all that young infield talent is excellent for the Red Sox, it might not be so excellent for the career of first baseman Sam Travis. Although he does not have the pedigree of guys like Devers and Chavis, Travis was still among the better prospects in the system in year’s past, especially in 2017 and 2018. Despite such expectations, Travis has failed to make a lasting impact at the MLB level. To be fair, he hasn’t always been given a ton of chances, accumulating only 241 plate appearances across 96 games since making his debut during the 2017 campaign.
The majority of that work has come this season, as Travis has helped fill the holes left by injuries to Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce and even Chavis. He has already surpassed his career-highs in plate appearances (120) and games played (44) in a single season, but the extra reps haven’t exactly translated to burgeoning success.
Travis is slashing .255/.308/.455 this season, with a an wRC+ of 89. That may be a career-high for him, but that’s still the mark of a below league average hitter. In addition, he may be walking a bit more and striking out a bit less, but with marks of 7.5 percent and 20.8 percent in strikeout rate and walk rate, it’s not as if he has turned over a new leaf entirely. Travis was a below replacement level player the last two seasons according to both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. He was at exactly zero bWAR before last night’s game and his fWAR is a decimal shy of that.
Technically speaking, these are signs of improvement — they’re just not ones that really move the needle. Such progress is far too meager for a player who hopes to become a fixture for a MLB team.
There is reason to be optimistic, however. For example, in comparison to Chavis, Travis has a superior isolated power rate (.200 compared with .190) this season. In addition, during July, Travis slashed .379/.419/.690 with a wRC+ of 185. That is Mike Trout-ian production, but it wasn’t sustainable, especially as it occurred over the course of only 31 plate appearances. Since August started, Travis has returned to what he’s been in his admittedly brief MLB career, with a wRC+ of 90 and a slash line of .220/.310/.480 across 58 plate appearances.
Travis just turned 26 years old on Tuesday so he is right around the prospect age range, albeit on the very edge of the older side. The Red Sox certainly shouldn’t be giving up on him now. It’s not as if there’s no time for him to find himself and take his place alongside Devers, Bogaerts and Chavis as building blocks for the Red Sox’s next title contending team. However, Travis’ chances are disappearing quickly, especially with Chasas and Dalbec making strides in the minor leagues. Looking beyond opportunities in the infield, even if Travis gets a few more shots in the outfield or at designated hitter, those aren’t exactly parts of the roster where the Red Sox are hurting.
If the Red Sox’s postseason hopes continue to dwindle, it would seem likely that they will experiment a bit more in order to assess where they stand for the future. That’s no guarantee, however, so it’s unclear if Travis will be given a real shot to prove himself as an everyday player during the next few weeks. Travis has started in 12 games this month, which is one fewer than he totaled during the first three months of the season. That is far from a starter’s workload. If the Sox opt to give him even more chances in the last days of August and into September, Travis has to produce. Otherwise, he could run the risk of falling out of the Red Sox’s future plans entirely.