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June 6, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Travis Lakins

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- After a strong start to the year in a return to High A Salem, Travis Lakins earned a promotion to Double-A Portland on May 11. I took in his second start at the level on May 23 against Toronto affiliate New Hampshire. Here’s my Scouting Scratch.

Age: 22
Height: 6-1
Weight: 180
Throws: Right
How Acquired: Draft, 6th Rd., 2015 (Ohio State)

Line: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K; 87 pitches, 56 strikes (64%); 12/20 first-pitch strikes (60%); 6 swinging strikes.

Following an impressive look during Spring Training last year, Lakins looked poised to break out in a system somewhat devoid of pitching prospects. The buzz intensified when Lakins was assigned to Salem to start the year, skipping Low A entirely. But Lakins struggled, putting up a 5.93 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 91 innings before his season ended in late July due to a stress fracture in his elbow. 

In his return to Salem this April, Lakins excelled, putting up a 2.61 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 38 innings with a 43:13 strikeout to walk ratio. But Lakins has struggled in his four starts for Portland following his promotion, allowing 17 earned runs in 15 innings over four starts, striking out 10 and walking 11.

Lakins is listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, but looks shorter than that. He is undersized for a pitcher, but has an athletic frame and some projection remaining. Lakins starts on the third base side of the rubber. He throws from a high three-quarters arm slot and has some effort in his delivery, featuring short, quick arm action. He uses a medium leg kick and gets some deception by hiding the ball behind his body until late in his delivery. 

Lakins showed plus velocity in the outing scouted, sitting 92-94 mph and topping out at 95 mph. Because of his height, the pitch lacked plane and life, and as a result didn’t induce a single swinging strike during the outing. He did hold his velocity and was still touching 94-95 mph in his fifth inning of work. When he got the ball down in the zone, he was able to get weak contact on the ground with the pitch, but when he elevated it, the pitch was straight and very hittable. Lakins’ command was off in this outing, and as a result he was hit around a bit. Even though the pitch has plus velocity, it plays down due to the lack of plane and projects as only an above-average offering.

Lakins’ primary secondaries were his curveball and cutter, but he also mixed in a changeup. Lakins’ curveball showed the most potential, flashing above-average a few times. He threw two variations of the pitch: a get-me-over curve at 75-76 mph thrown early in the count to steal a strike and a harder, power curveball at 78-79 mph. The power curveball had tighter rotation at its best, with hard 12-to-6 break. He was somewhat inconsistent with his release and spiked a few as a result, but did show the ability to throw the pitch for strikes and the confidence to throw it in any count.

Before this year, Lakins threw a true slider, but the pitch has turned more into a cutter now at 87-91 mph that, at times, will revert back to looking like a slider. The shape of the pitched varied, as it looked like a true cutter at higher velocities with short, horizontal break while looking longer, with more tilt, at the lower end. He threw one above-average one to get a swinging strikeout against a right-handed hitter at 89 mph that he buried down and away, but for the most part the pitch showed fringe-average to average. 

Lakins sparingly mixed in a changeup at 85-89 mph. The pitch was inconsistent, as he held on to some too long while leaving others up. When he did use it, it tended to come in bursts as he would double-up with the pitch at times. He showed a willingness to throw it in any count, and did get a few swinging strikes with it, but generally it looked like an average offering at best.

Long-term, I’m not sure whether Lakins will be a starter or reliever, but he is an intriguing arm. A plus athlete with a four-pitch arsenal and plus velocity would look, on the surface, to have the tools to be a major league starting pitcher. However, his size and resulting lack of plane and inability to miss bats with his fastball lend more towards a relief profile. If he is a starter, Lakins profiles best as a number 4-type with the potential for two above-average pitches and then two more fringe-average-to-average offerings. As a reliever, Lakins’ stuff could play up and he could project as a power middle reliever. Lakins will certainly continue to start for now given how much more value he would have if he can develop into filling that first role, and I am looking forward to getting another look as he gets more comfortable at the level.

Photo credits: Travis Lakins by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.