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September 7, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Sam Travis and Justin Haley

Coming off an ACL tear that ended his 2016 season early, first baseman Sam Travis sought to reestablish himself as a potential first baseman of the future for the Red Sox this year. With the team only signing Mitch Moreland to a one-year deal, Travis could claim the first base job entering 2018 with a good, healthy season. Unfortunately, the 2017 season hasn’t gone according to plan—Travis did receive his first big league call up in May, but he has been unable to answer the biggest question mark in his game: his lack of power. 

For the season, Travis has six home runs and 14 doubles in 342 plate appearances in Pawtucket, good for a .375 slugging percentage to go along with a .270 average and .351 on-base percentage. Over his most recent stint in Pawtucket, from July 18 through the end of August, his lack of power was even more glaring, as he managed just five extra-base hits—two doubles and one home run—in 160 plate appearances, good for a .338 slugging percentage and .065 isolated power mark. 

Travis is already undersized and doesn’t fit the mold of your prototypical first baseman or power hitter. He is listed at 6-feet, 205 pounds with an athletic build and minimal remaining projection. He has a strong upper body and wrists, and his bat speed is still there, but in a recent look, Travis didn’t look comfortable at the plate at all. He was constantly chopping down at the ball and struggled to elevate pitches, hitting only one fly ball in nine at-bats. 

Travis’s swing isn’t geared for power in the first place. His bat path is on the level side and more geared to generate ground balls or line drives than fly balls. And this year, his fly ball percentage is down to 19.8% in Pawtucket, whereas it was over 30% in both 2015 and 2016. Conversely, his groundball percentage increased to over 50% this year, whereas it has been in the 40s the previous two years. In the past, Travis has shown above-average raw power and average potential in-game power, but if this uptick in groundball rate continues, the odds of him even getting to that point grow slimmer and his ultimate projection becomes murkier. 

Travis still has a chance to be a major leaguer, but with a first base-only profile, he is going to have to hit more to project as even a fringe-regular, let alone an everyday player for the Red Sox. He has already played in two games since being called up on September 1, but he will likely by utilized almost exclusively against left-handed pitchers, who he has enjoyed success against at the major league level (13 for 32, 5 doubles) and shown considerably more power against at the minor league level this year (.526 slugging percentage against left-handers with Pawtucket compared to .332 against right-handers). However, he will need to prove he can hit—and for power—against right-handed pitching as well if he is to start at first base for a team with playoff aspirations.


After being selected in the Rule 5 draft, right-hander Justin Haley was returned to the Red Sox in late July from the Twins, who had tried him in the major league bullpen earlier in the year before sending him to Triple-A on two “rehab assignments” to work as a starter. A 2012 sixth-round pick, Haley put together a strong 2016 season, during which he put up a 3.01 ERA and 1.12 WHIP across 146.2 innings in Portland and Pawtucket. In 2017, Haley had his troubles between two levels with the Twins, but after returning to the Red Sox was excellent in Pawtucket, putting up a 2.6 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 44 innings with 35 strikeouts compared to only 7 walks. Still, despite his being selected in last year’s Rule 5 draft when he was left unprotected, it is unlikely Haley will be added to the 40-man roster this November either, as his stuff doesn’t profile well in the bullpen and is fringy for a starting pitcher. 

Haley has a tall pitcher’s frame, listed at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. At 26 years old, he does not have much projection in his frame. Haley’s delivery is unique. He starts with a wide base and utilizes a medium leg kick with a long, rigid arm action and stab as he brings the ball behind. He then brings his arm up and forward, throwing from an over the top arm slot and does a good job pitching downhill. There is a good deal of effort in the delivery.

Haley will feature four pitches—a fastball, slider, changeup and curveball—but none of them project better than average. Haley’s fastball sat 89-91 mph in a recent start, topping out at 93 mph. His velocity actually increased as the game went on; he came out 88-90 before settling into the 89-91 mph range as he loosened up. He has above-average control of his fastball, and in this start was commanding the pitch, allowing it to get swinging strikes even though he was only throwing with average velocity. He controlled the bottom third of the strike zone and elicited a lot of weak contact. 

Haley’s best secondary pitch is his changeup, which he throws 81-84 mph. He has feel for the pitch and throws it with deceptive arm speed. At its best, the pitch shows average potential, but on occasion he will slow his arm some. He utilizes it primarily against left-handed hitters, with it fading down and away from their barrels. 

Haley’s slider is slightly ahead of his curveball at this point, showing fringe-average to average potential. The pitch is inconsistent and shows short, horizontal break when thrown in the 86-87 mph range, and longer break at 84-85 mph. Haley’s curveball is more of a show-me pitch at this point, primarily used to steal a strike early in the count. He doesn’t consistently snap the pitch off and it lacks depth. He throws it 75-77 mph with short, vertical, 12-to-6 shape.

While Haley’s pitch mix is on the fringy side, he does have advanced pitchability and does a good job mixing all of his pitches. He has shown the ability to miss bats with his fastball, changeup and slider, though none project as put-away pitches at the major league level. As a result, Haley’s stuff doesn’t really profile in a standard bullpen role, leaving him as a ’tweener. He will likely get another chance at the major league level at some point. and in the worst case could stick around for a long time as a solid organizational arm, providing quality innings at the Triple-A level.

Photo credit: Sam Travis and Justin Haley by Kelly O'Connor

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