Portland Sea Dogs

Obstacles now in rear-view mirror, Red Sox pitching prospect Travis Lakins working way up minor league system

Vincent Gallo
July 10, 2018 - 11:15 pm

It’s been three seasons since Sea Dogs pitching coach Paul Abbott began working with Travis Lakins.

Upon meeting the then 20-year-old righty, it was clear to him that the pitcher drafted out of Ohio State had the presence of will to improve. Abbott still shows a voice inflection of astonishment mixed with respect when speaking on Lakins’ (now 24) work ethic.

“He’s got really electric stuff and he wants to show it,” Abbott said. “Sometimes he tries to make things better than he has to.”

As explained by his coach, Lakins looks for any advantage possible against opponents. In an attempt to straighten his delivery, he’s worked on his placement on the mound.

“I started at the first base side then transitioned to the third base side,” Lakins explained. “I think it’s helped me out tremendously. It doesn’t really advantage lefties or disadvantage lefties … but for righties the arm slot is coming out from behind them and right at them a little bit so it kind of makes them uncomfortable.”

Abbott acknowledged the righty’s switch up, but believes that Lakins’ pitch control and speed is what makes the difference.

“It’s all about command … he’s got dominant stuff, and if his power cutter is on, it doesn’t matter which [side of the mound] he’s on," he said.

The pop Lakins heard in his elbow while pitching in High-A Salem in July 2016 was the first issue he had with his arm with the Red Sox. He had feared the worst. But upon examination, it was determined that he had avoided the year-long recovery process of Tommy John surgery and instead had suffered a fracture at the tip of his right elbow.

The recovery time was three months. That’s all Lakins would need. He would return to the mound in 2017 and spun a 2.61 ERA in Salem through seven starts.

Then, the elbow fracture began to act up in his stint with the Sea Dogs that same year. The injury sent him to the disabled list twice before the start of his 2018 season, both in July 2017, which ended his campaign for a second straight season, and April (preseason) of this past spring.

He finished 2017 with a 4.21 ERA after going 0-4 with a 6.23 ERA in eight starts with Portland. The inflation of his season ERA in 2016 (5.93) and 2017 (4.21), has since dropped the 24-year-old from the No. 2 overall Red Sox pitching prospect to the sixth (per MLB.com).

Lakins' desire to prove himself was a factor toward pitching with an arm at less than 100 percent, and trusting his ability, despite the drop in his velocity during that period.

“I just have that competitive mindset,” he said. “I’ve always had it, even when I was a little kid, I was always the one who would fight until the end and I think that’s stuck with me. Now that I’m married and have a little baby on the way, it’s driven it a little bit more. As any professional athlete you’re going to know you’re going to have bumps in the road, and every bump in the road is different, for every player.”

In an interview with the Boston Globe last spring, Abbott expressed the idea that Lakins’ ceiling would be limitless if he could get a handle on his changeup. Now with a fully healed throwing arm, it’s indeed improved, and Abbott believes the 2015 sixth-round pick is close to perfecting it.

“[The changeup has] really ticked up in his past few outings, his direction is much better," he said. "He’s done a really good job with it. He has better direction [and] he’s working with it when he’s out in front [of the hitter] rather than running away from it.”

Lakins confirmed that his confidence in the pitch has grown.

“Honestly, over the past few weeks, the changeup has probably been my best pitch,” he said. “We’ve worked on it all year, making sure I have comfortability throwing it. Make sure it’s just like my fastball. Right now it’s probably the best feel pitch for me. I can throw it at any count at any time.”

Despite suffering two injuries to his elbow, everything toward developing Lakins’ pitch arsenal for the next level will prove to have gone as planned if he continues to show consistency with his changeup. When drafted in 2015, Lakins had already had a fastball that touched 94, and a cutter he describes as his “wipeout pitch.” All he needs is an above-average option when switching off-speed.

“He’s definitely got big league stuff,” Abbott said. “His seasons have been cut short the last two years and now he’s putting together a good solid first half and healthy first half … he definitely has the stuff to play up at the big league level for sure.”

With two months remaining in the 2018 season, Lakins is pitching for the chance for a Triple-A promotion. He currently holds a 2.93 ERA through 30 innings pitched with an opponent average of .205. In his past 10 appearances, he’s registered a 0.84 ERA with nine strikeouts.

“I try to keep [the idea of promotion] out of my head,” Lakins said. “I just know I have to continue to pitch, no matter [if] it’s here, in Triple-A or wherever it is. I just need to keep pitching and leave that at the back of my mind."