The Red Sox surprised most of the baseball world by calling up their #3 prospect Sam Travis this Tuesday, May 23rd, at the expense of spot starter Hector Velazquez. This move is worth noting because this is the 23 year old’s first call up to Boston, and it’s coming much sooner than many evaluators had expected. It’s an exciting move for a player who has consistently hit at all levels and is expected to be the everyday first baseman as early as next season. But there are some concerns for the 2014 2nd rounder as he goes into his first major league start.
Currently, Travis is scheduled to debut tonight (May 24th) starting at 1st base and batting 7th against the Ranger’s lefty Martín Pérez. By the time this article is up, Travis will have his first big league game under his belt, and hopefully it’s a good one.
There is reason to believe Travis is more than ready for this call up. Like I said before, he has been able to hit at every level of the game. He has finished with a batting average north of .300 in almost every season of professional ball; the outliers being a .290 average in 27 games with High A Greenville and .276 in AAA last year in an injury shortened season where he tore his ACL in May. He sports a .301 career batting average in the minors.
This video is from right before he tore his ACL in Triple-A last season.
This season with Pawtucket he’s posted a .286/.353/.452 line in 33 games, despite his slow start battling back from his knee injury. Since April 22nd he’s posted a .344 average with 6 doubles and 3 home runs. The reason he’s getting the call up is because of his .414 average and 1.209 OPS against lefties this season.
Travis displaying some of his lefty hitting power last year in the minors
Mitch Moreland has played in 43 out of the 44 games this season, and Travis is expected to platoon with the beleaguered lefty against southpaws. Moreland is seeing lefties pretty okay this season (.280/.419/.360 with 6 walks in 17 games), but with Hanley Ramirez’s shoulder leaving him unable to play the field the Sox needed someone to spell Moreland.
While this isn’t exactly rushing Travis up the bigs, like it would have been if they had called up a less developed prospect a la Rafael Devers, the timing of this move is a bit questionable. Moreland is a career .301/.378/.678 guy against left handed pitching, and while his numbers this season are below his career average, they are by no means awful. Sure, if he was hitting .175 against lefties this season it would make a lot of sense to platoon the guy, but that’s not what’s going on here.
Moreland was slumping pretty bad for a stretch this year, batting .167/.324/.233 from April 26th to May 16th, but he seemed to get his stroke back on the latest road trip and has hit .304/.320/.739 with 3 home runs since then. It may be counter productive to start platooning a guy who’s just began to heat back up.
Does this look like a guy who needs to be benched?
This move seems reactionary to me. The Red Sox are middling around .500 and needed to do something splashy to try and get some more power in this lineup, so they called up their most major league ready offensive prospect. After all, Travis’ .452 slugging percentage in AAA this year would be 3rd on the team, behind Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland. However, replacing Moreland’s .380 SLG against lefties with a guy who has been slugging twice that at Triple-A (.724 in in 30 ABs) would go a long way to correcting the biggest problem the 2017 Red Sox offense is facing: too many guys being left on base.
Sam Travis profiles as an eventual every day starter at the major league level, depending on how well he is able to hit. He is a solid fielder with soft hands and average arm strength, so it likely looks like he will be limited to playing first base. He’s not very athletic and lacks top end speed (13/20 on stolen bases in the last 2 seasons), but he is a very smart baserunner. He is a bit undersized for a first baseman, 6 ft/210 lbs, but has a filled out frame. He sees the ball very well, and has the potential to develop into a 20+ HR a season type guy. He is also a notoriously hard worker, seen recently as he was able to resume playing baseball less than a year after tearing his ACL.
Travis refuses to wear batting gloves, trying them once in high school and deciding he didn’t enjoy the feel of them. He opts more for the “grip it and rip it” school of baseball thought. He's not immediately going to solve all of the offenses problems, but he certainly offers some intriguing power potential against left handed pitchers in a lineup that is desperately seeking power.
He’s been one of my Sox favorite prospects not named Andrew Benintendi for the last two years, and with a few good games in the show, he might become one of your favorites too.