Devon Travis of the Detroit Tigers was one of the top statistical performers in the minor leagues in 2013, hitting a combined .351/.418/.518 with 16 homers, 22 steals, 53 walks, and just 64 strikeouts in 504 at-bats between Low-A and High-A.
He didn't show up on a large number of prospect lists pre-season, but he will certainly get some attention now. Let's contribute to that process by naming him Prospect of the Day.
Devon Travis played college baseball at Florida State University and was quite successful, hitting .327/.449/.514 as a sophomore in 2011 and .325/.400/.504 as a junior in 2012. However, as an undersized college second baseman, he didn't generate a huge amount of excitement on draft day, lasting until the 13th round where he was selected by the Tigers.
Here is the report I wrote on him in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book, based mostly on observations of him in college:
SLEEPER ALERT!! A 13th round pick from Florida State University last June, Travis didn't receive a lot of pre-draft hype despite a solid college career, but he continued to play well in the New York-Penn League and is getting some attention now. Like many college second basemen, he's undersized and doesn't have the arm for shortstop, but he does have quick hands and good range in the field. With the stick, he does a decent job controlling the strike zone, makes contact, has some punch to the gaps, and has hit well at every level to which he's been exposed. If he was two inches taller, he'd get more attention. Grade C but a sleeper.
He woke up.
After beginning his pro career in '12 with a solid .280/.352/.441 run in the New York-Penn League, he opened '13 with West Michigan in the Midwest League and was a terror in the first half of the season, hitting .352/.430/.486 with 14 steals, 35 walks, and just 32 strikeouts in 290 at-bats, wRC+ of 160. Promoted to High-A Lakeland at mid-season, he put up an even better .350/.401/.561 line with eight steals, 10 homers, 18 walks, 32 strikeouts in 214 at-bats, wRC+ of 174.
Those are some pretty special numbers. You can take a look at his swing here (WARNING: annoying music):
Bless You Boys posted this scouting report on Travis back in May. Some key points from the BYB report:
***Listed at 5'9", that seems about right. Solidly built. Listed at 183, which also seems pretty accurate. Strong, thick lower half. Powerful legs. Good build, but needs to remain that way. Any more weight (of the bad variety) is probably a bad thing.
***Love his hands...gets the bat to the zone quickly and the barrel remains in the zone for a good amount of time...drives his back side with authority...does not expand the zone...susceptible to good breaking balls in the lower part of the zone right now...shortens up in 2 strike counts...hands allow him to get to inside heat...watched him barrel a 97 MPH fastball on the inner third and lace it into RCF...goes the other way with authority...good contact hitter overall.
***He's slow. . .clocked him at 4.50, 4.35, and 4.42 from home to 1st.
***Really like him at 2B....his hands are outstanding in the field...solid range to both sides...just vacuums everything up that he can get to...quick feet allow range to play up, and he comes in on balls well...really quick exchange of ball from glove to hand.
Travis ended up with a combined .981 fielding percentage between Low-A and High-A, with a range factor over 5.00. Yes, minor league defensive stats are problematic, but in this case the numbers perfectly match the Bless You Boys scouting report and what I saw of him in college. He's very reliable, catches everything he can reach, and has good range. Despite the lack of running speed, he's quick with his hands and feet on defense.
BYB's note about Travis having below average running speed is interesting. He's 25-for-30 as a basestealer in professional baseball, which says something positive about his technique on the bases, but the lack of good stopwatch times is one of the reasons he lasted until the 13th round. He also had a history of injuries in college which didn't help his draft ranking, although he stayed away from the doctors this season.
So what do the Tigers have here?
Devon Travis has, to this point in his career, destroyed minor league pitching, hitting for average and power and controlling the strike zone well. Despite a lack of natural speed, he's been successful as a stealer. He doesn't have the pure defensive tools for shortstop, but is very good at second base. He's not too old at age 22, and is about to get a chance to show off his abilities in the Arizona Fall League.
That's the summary. Guys like this generate natural skepticism until they prove out at higher levels, but Travis has met or exceeded all expectations thus far. My bet is that he will continue to do so.