April 13, 2016 at 9:00 AM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Sam Travis has seemingly one focus: Winning. Whether discussing his promotion to Double-A last season, success in the Arizona Fall League, or even spring training, Travis brings the focus back to winning games. In an environment where more stress is put on personal development and working towards your next promotion, his borderline obsession with winning stands out among his peers.
“That’s his character,” Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles said. “Everybody that you talk to [says]: If he goes 3 for 4 and you lose, he’s upset about it. He’s a winning ballplayer. And those are the type of guys that can help you win championships down the road.”
Coming off a strong first full season in Salem and Portland, a successful spring campaign with the major league team has now landed him on the doorstep of the place where winning is the only goal.
“Being my first big league camp, it was good to see, and it was a great experience taking it all in,” the 22-year-old Travis said. “I would watch everyone just to see how seriously they take their work and how they get ready for the game. Because I like to think of myself that same way—I take my job very seriously. I like to take everything I do game speed and game-like because that’s the only way you’re going to get better.”
Travis ended up getting perhaps more playing time than even he expected this spring and had great success, batting .469/.429/.719 in 18 Grapefruit League games. Now in Pawtucket, just a step away from the big leagues, that success against major league pitchers this spring may prove beneficial for his confidence when Travis’ number gets called.
“You just remember it’s a game and you’re here for a reason and it’s supposed to be fun,” the young first baseman said. “You go out with that attitude and stick to your plan and try to stay confident. You try to win games, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Of course, spring training numbers are usually faint predictors of ultimate success, but for his first time facing pitching of that caliber, it was impressive no matter how you spin it.
“I think with a guy in his first major league camp, you’re generally not going to read that much into it,” said Director of Player Development Ben Crockett. “But boy, I think the performance he had, his approach to the game—the grittiness to it, as serious as he takes it. He really made a positive impression, not only on the major league staff, but the players around him.”
His strong spring comes on the heels of an extremely successful 2015 season that culminated in a trip to the Arizona Fall League championship. In fact, since entering the Red Sox system, Travis has an impressive .309/.370/.455 batting line in 199 games across four levels. He’s been extremely consistent too, batting .300 or above at every stop except his 27-game stint in Greenville, where he hit .290.
“He goes about his business in a professional manner,” Crockett said. “He’s got a really good routine that he sticks to, and he’s a talented guy. He’s someone that’s extremely competitive. That’s something that we saw over the course of the season, and even in the Arizona Fall League.”
The success Travis has found in his career is especially impressive because of the aggressive approach the organization has taken to promoting him. He was promoted to Greenville in the same season he was drafted, and then began his first full season in professional baseball with Salem. Perhaps most impressively, he moved up to Portland after just 66 High-A games, yet put up a line of .300/.384/.436 in Double-A.
“He was an advanced college hitter who had done it at a really high-level of play, high-level of competition both in the summertime and in college,” Crockett said. “Then coming into his first year, just the approach that he showed was really advanced, the physical ability was there and remains pretty consistent in everything he does. Even when he started the season off a little bit slower last year in Salem, his daily routine and effort was really consistent. And I think a lot of those guys that can avoid the low valleys as well as the peaks and stay more consistent with what they do, it’s easier to promote those kind of guys.”
His personal success across both levels led Travis to be selected by the organization to take part in the Arizona Fall League, where each year the top upper-level prospects in the minors converge to test their stuff against the best. Once again, Travis found success, but, unsurprisingly, he had a different focus.
“It was a lot of fun out there, especially because we got to win it all. It was a great time, great experience,” he said. “That’s where you want to be when you’re in the minor leagues and working your way up through the system. You want to get that Fall League off of your checklist. And to get out there and win it all, it was a great time.”
Despite sporadic playing time because of the nature of the league as well as tough competition, Travis put up a line of .344/.394/.505 in 93 at-bats. He sees those stats as a function of keeping the focus on winning though, and not the other way around.
“I think that’s why the majority of the guys on our team had such a successful fall, because we kind of didn’t focus on [performance], we actually tried to win,” he said. “I think that says a lot about the character of the guys on that team. And like I said, it was a great experience—something that I’ll remember forever.”
“That’s a situation where you’re not playing every day, everybody’s splitting time with guys from different organizations,” Crockett added. “But he was focused on winning from the get-go, which was pretty neat to see.”
With all the success he’s had, the one area where he’s left some room for improvement is his home run power. He hit just nine home runs in 131 games last season, which, as a first base-only prospect, is less than ideal. However, he did hit 32 doubles and six triples, and shows plenty of power in batting practice.
Power is often the last tool to develop, and though this logic is overused when it comes to hitting prospects, having recently turned 22 and with only one full season in the system, it is actually applicable in Travis’ case.
“He hits the ball as hard as anybody,” Crockett said. “Now, I think he’s got a line drive type of swing. I think the ability to hit the ball in the gaps and to the entire field is a strength of his. I think he’s going to slug no matter how he does it, whether it’s home runs or doubles or triples—he’s a really good baserunner. I think we’re less focused on specific home run output as his ability to have consistent at-bats and hit the ball hard as he’s done.”
“I know it’s in there, it’s just not necessarily what I’m trying to do,” Travis added. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard and help the team win, drive runs in. You drive runs in, that’s how you win games. That’s the ultimate goal, so yeah, if we’re winning games, that’s all that matters.”
Travis started his time in Pawtucket this season off with a bang, producing a win for the team with a walk-off single (pictured) in his third game and then hitting his first home run in his fifth game. Just another transition he’s making look easy.
“It’s early, but the one thing with his approach, he’s aggressive early in the count, there’s no fear,” Boles said. “He’s able to hit offspeed with spin. He manages his ABs, but high frequency of contact. The focus and the way he stays ready—he’d come off the bench [in spring] after sitting around the first four or five innings, and he was locked in. He’d get his at-bat and it was like he was in there the whole time. This guy’s focus and work habits are second to none.”
Perhaps there will come a time when Travis faces prolonged struggles at the plate, but for now, he’s continuing to do what he’s done at every stop of his career: Hit. And when those hits lead to wins, Travis rests easy.
Photo credit: Sam Travis by Kelly O'Connor
Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegel.