Sam Travis

Red Sox minor league notebook: Could Sam Travis be Hanley Ramirez's replacement at first base in 2017?

Ryan Hannable
May 19, 2016 - 7:31 am
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1. There will be a lot of questions next offseason with the Red Sox' big league club. If David Ortiz does indeed retire, Hanley Ramirez likely will move from first base to designated hitter. Then, with Travis Shaw's outstanding start to the year at third base and plenty of questions with Pablo Sandoval, it would seem Shaw will stay at third base. This leaves first base open and the Red Sox may not need to look outside the organization, as prospect Sam Travis is proving he deserves a lot of consideration for the job. Travis was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Indiana University and he's performed well at every level he's played. In 40 games with short-season, Single-A Lowell after being drafted he batted .333 and was promoted to Single-A Greenville to end the 2014 season where he hit .290 with a slugging percentage of .495. The first baseman started last season with Salem before being promoted to Portland at the All-Star break, after being named to the High-A All-Star Game. Between the two teams, the right-handed hitter batted .307 with nine home runs and 78 RBIs. Now, 38 games into his Triple-A career, he's batting .281 with five homers and 23 RBIs. He's been the PawSox' most consistent hitter to this point in the season despite being one of the youngest players on the team. "You just get better playing every day and learning through experience, against better competition and getting your practice in," Travis said. "Trusting the process, you'll gradually get better." The 22-year-old did note he's needed to make a few adjustments when moving up with each level. "Guys just have more experience," he said. "It's more of a mental game than the average fan would say. It's kind of a chess game. He's going to pitch to his own and you have to make him come to your zone. That is the biggest thing." This past spring Travis played in 18 games with the major league club during spring training and hit .469 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. These numbers proved he has what it takes to one day be a full-time major league player. "It definitely gives you confidence, but it all comes back to having fun," Travis said. "You're there for a reason, but it's baseball. You have to have fun with it." It isn't all pure skill that has Travis where he is. He's known for how serious he takes the game and how hard he works on his craft. "He doesn't stray too far away from his basic beliefs in hitting," Pawtucket hitting coach Rich Gedman said. "It's pretty fundamental. It's pretty basic for the most part. He's aggressive, number one, but he's aggressive in the middle of the field. I don't think the home runs he tries to do. I think they are things that happen. You can get caught up into the home run stuff, I don't. Here's a guy who potentially could hit .300 year in and year out, or be really close to it. He's a tough out. He can hit with two strikes. He's not one-dimensional. He can hit a breaking ball. He can hit a ball up. He can hit a ball down. He battles at the plate. He'll strike out some, but he doesn't strike out a lot. He'll earn his walks as well. It is very difficult for a guy to come here and to just do well right away. Some of it is he is true to himself and knows what he has to do to be successful." All Travis focuses on is winning, as that is all he cares about no matter what level he's at. This is why it doesn't come as any surprise he hasn't thought about what might happen next season with everything going on with the big league club. "That hasn't crossed my mind once," he said. "That isn't in my control. I just control what I can control. You just have to trust the process. Do what your told and do it to the best of your ability." The Indiana product's ability is speaking for itself and could see him manning first base at Fenway Park in 2017. 2. At this time last year, Henry Owens and Brian Johnson were the talk of the Red Sox' farm system as both were knocking on the door of the big leagues. Now, a year later, both are going through their fair share of issues. Owens, who has made three big league starts this year, hasn't had the best of numbers in Triple-A. In five starts he is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA, but the biggest issue is 17 walks in 30 innings, which includes five in one outing two starts ago. Johnson is 2-3 with a 4.64 ERA and has 22 walks in 33 innings. Red Sox minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel knows they both have what it takes to turn things around. "It's uncharacteristic for both of them," he said. "Henry has had streaks in the past. It comes back to they have to feel comfortable. Right now for both of them -- Henry went seven scoreless innings 10 days ago and still walked five. That isn't going to work. His last outing he gives up seven runs and only walks two, so what outing is better? "Again, they both are relatively young guys and just have to be patient with him. They have done it in the past so I'm sure they are going to do it again. It isn't like all of a sudden they're going to lose the ability to throw strikes." 3. The number of walks for Johnson are particularly concerning as his command is what he's been known for in the past. His pure stuff isn't good enough to get it done, so his ability to locate all of his pitches is what got him to make his major league debut last season before dealing with an elbow injury. By all accounts he's healthy again and it is a matter of making a tweak or two with his delivery. "They all go through it. They're not robots," Treuel said. "I think they get close to the big leagues and I think obviously they know every outing could be their last outing in Triple-A and their next outing could be in the big leagues. They have a tendency to press at times. I think it is a slight mechanical adjustment he needs to make because I know he is a mentally tough kid." 4. Blake Swihart is getting more and more comfortable in left field as the PawSox have had him in the outfield for 10 games, opposed to catching just six since being sent down at the end of April. "Every game out there I am getting more and more comfortable," Swihart said this week. "Instincts are coming back from a couple of years ago. Everything is going well." Swihart noted his pregame work is based on where he's playing that day. If he's catching, he spends all of his time working on things behind the plate, but if he's in left field, he spends time shagging fly balls, but also takes part in the catching meetings and occasional drills. He wasn't a full-time catcher at any point in his career as he played shortstop and some outfield up until he was drafted in 2011 out of high school in New Mexico. That is why it wasn't a huge shock to him when he learned at the end of spring training he would be adding left field to his skill set this season. "I think I knew it was a possibility when I first signed," Swihart said. "I knew my athletic ability would give me a chance to play other positions." 5. There is not a more consistent pitcher in the Red Sox minor league system than Teddy Stankiewicz. Although he has a 1-2 record with a 3.32 ERA with Double-A Portland, he's been even better than his record indicates. He's gone at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less in six of his seven starts. It's this dependability that gets pitchers to the big leagues. "To be a major league starting pitcher, one you have to have good stuff, but you have to be reliable," Treuel said. "You have to be a guy a team can count on, management can count on going into the sixth, seventh, eighth inning. That is one of Teddy's strengths and always been -- his ability to throw strikes and pitch innings. This year we're starting to see the strikeouts tick up so the stuff us getting better. You want that consistent guy. That guy that has one outstanding start, two clinkers and one average start, I'd rather have that guy who gives you three out of four, four out of five really solid starts." 6. After hitting just .231 and slugging .250 in Triple-A during the month of April, Rusney Castillo is turning things around. In 14 games during the month of May, the outfielder is batting .316 while slugging .404. He has hits in seven of his last eight games, including three, three-hit games. For Gedman, this isn't coming as much of a surprise. "Some of it is just settling in down here," Gedman said. "Getting a chance to play all the time. He really works well in the cage. Keeping the ball out of the air, staying on the ball, allowing his swing to work. Controlling the effort level and he's been more consistent. I think when guys first come here they get a little disappointed that they are here. It takes a couple of days. You get your feet on the ground and right the ship. Once you get it right, you have a purpose as to why you are here. It's not that you're not going to get back there, it's a matter of time when you're going to get back there. "He's still has a lot of baseball to learn. It's better to be doing it on the field. The game is about results, but it's really not. It's about the process. It's about handling a game. It's about the approach to the game. It's about the daily maintenance and the routines you develop to take care of things that make you successful. He's doing a much, much better job of that." 7. The big news in the Red Sox' farm system, and organization for that matter, was center fielder Andrew Benintendi being promoted to Double-A Portland after just 34 games in High-A Salem where he hit .341 with 21 of his 46 hits going for extra bases. He just wasn't getting challenged any more and that was the biggest reason for the promotion. Benintendi seems to be getting challenged in the first three games of his Double-A career -- which is a good thing. The No. 7 overall pick in last year's draft is 2-for-11 with five strikeouts so far with Portland. Going through tough stretches isn't a bad thing for a minor leaguer as it helps them figure things out on their own with how to get better and that will only make Benintendi into a better player and more prepared for the big leagues when that time comes. 8. It hasn't been the best of seasons for shortstop Deven Marrero. The Red Sox' 2012 first-round pick is batting just .199 in 35 games with seven extra-base hits in 146 at-bats in Triple-A. "It's still early," Gedman said. "More than anything else for me offensively, he's a little too eager and a little too anxious. I think numbers aside, he's actually hit a lot of balls well. In the first month of the season he was probably 45 percent quality at-bats. You go, it doesn't equate to what the numbers are saying and that can be frustrating. Then you start to do more and you get in a little rut. "Like I said, it's early. Hopefully the warmer weather is ahead of us and some guys take a little longer to get going. Some how, sometimes it all evens out. I don't see him as a .200 hitter and I'm not sure I see him as a .300 hitter. That doesn't matter in this game. What matters is you're ready, you're playing and you have an idea of what to do be successful. It's just a matter of time before he turns it around and gets it going on the hotter side of things. He'll be fine. He's a good player." 9. Although Portland right-hander Justin Haley had his worst outing of the season Wednesday facing only six batters on 44 pitches and allowing four runs not making it out of the first inning, this shouldn't take away from his start to the season. Even with the poor outing, he's 3-3 with a 2.87 ERA. His best outing came last weekend when he tossed seven shutout innings, while allowing only one hit. "His outing was really good," Treuel said. "He put on a clinic really of pitching with his fastball, especially inside. He did a really good job giving them a lot of uncomfortable at-bats. It was a real cool and windy night. He had a good slider. The secondary pitches have been a big key for him and he has to continue to mix." A sixth-round pick in 2012, Haley is starting to find himself after repeating a year in Portland. Last year he went 5-16 with a 5.15 ERA. "Considering the troubles he had last year, probably the first three quarters of the season, he started to figure some things out later in the year," Treuel said. "He's got the timing back in his delivery. He is a tremendous worker. He and (pitching coach) Kevin Walker spent countless hours looking at video from the previous year doing comparisons and things like that. I think he finally started to get back into the groove instead of fighting himself. He followed that up with a pretty good Arizona Fall League." 10. After missing much of spring training because of knee surgery in early February and then joining High-A Salem a few weeks into the regular season, left-hander Trey Ball hasn't looked like a pitcher still working off some rust. The 2013 first-round pick is off to a tremendous start. In four starts he is 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA with his best start coming his last time out as he went seven shutout innings, while scattering five hits and striking out six. Ball has been working on a hard slider/cutter since the end of last season and that is just one of the things that has changed this year for the lefty. He struggled last year as he went 9-13 with a 4.73 ERA, particularly struggling in the second half. "He's worked extremely hard on delivery making sure it isn't as violent," Treuel said. "Last year, he was really trying to overthrow, especially in the second half and he never found it. He threw the ball well early and in the second half he pressed so hard he lost his timing. He found it again, he just needs to keep it. This is why the routines are so important and the in between starts work has to be consistent. They have to have good routines."