Toronto Blue Jays rookie second baseman Devon Travis is having an excellent spring: through 16 games he's hitting .400/.442/.550 with six doubles, three walks, and five strikeouts in 43 plate appearances. Travis has not received a huge amount of attention outside of Toronto and Detroit Tigers circles but that is changing as he gets closer and closer to Opening Day.
Who is this guy?
Travis was a three-year starter at Florida State University. After a so-so freshman year in 2010, he came alive as a sophomore in 2011 with a .327/.449/.519 line in 220 at-bats with 40 walks and 30 strikeouts. He continued to hit well in 2012 (.325/.400/.504 in 268 at-bats) but was not regarded as a premium talent on draft day due to his size (5-9, 185 but looks smaller) and lack of standout physical tools. He lasted until the 13th round where he was selected by the Detroit Tigers.
His first look at pro pitching was successful: .280/.352/.441 in 93 at-bats for Connecticut in the New York-Penn League. This is the report I wrote on him for the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book:
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.
2013 was even better. He opened with a devastating run through the Low-A Midwest League, hitting .352/.430/.486 with 14 steals, 35 walks, and just 32 strikeouts in 290 at-bats for West Michigan. Midwest League observers were extremely impressed with his instinctive play on defense and loved his feel for the strike zone, although some worried that he would lose the power at higher levels.
That worry was misplaced: he hit .350/.401/.561 after promotion to Lakeland. That's Lakeland in the Florida State League, the league where fly balls go to die. The book comment for 2014:
Devon Travis is no longer a sleeper after hitting .351 last year and blowing through A-ball. He did everything he could possibly be expected to do, far more actually. The biggest surprise was the surge in power production. I doubt the home runs will hold up at higher levels, but he should produce a good number of doubles and maintain a solid batting average and OBP. He also performed very well at second base, posting a sharp .981 fielding percentage in 121 games while providing very good range and actions around the bag. I have to root for him. Grade B-.
2014 got off to a bad start due to an oblique injury, but once healthy Travis continued to hit, batting .298/.358/.460 with 20 doubles, 10 homers, 16 steals, 37 walks and 60 strikeouts in 396 at-bats for Erie in the Eastern League.
The Tigers didn't have room for him, so he was traded off to the Jays this past winter. Here is the take in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book:
The Blue Jays picked up Devon Travis this past fall from the Tigers, sending outfielder Anthony Gose to Detroit. I like this move for Toronto. Travis has to fight skeptics due to his size and lack of outstanding tools, but his consistent track record of success, dating back to his solid career at Florida State, is winning more scouts over every year. He is a contact hitter with a decent batting eye and good power for his size. His speed is average but he’s adept on the bases. Same holds true on defense: the tools aren’t terrific but he makes the most of everything, plays intelligently, and is solid around the bag at second base. The Blue Jays are quite tool-oriented in their assessment of players and the fact that they like Travis should tell you something. He’s sound sabermetrically, and he’s sound by traditional methods, too. Grade B.
So here he is, still hitting.
Will this hold up in the majors? I don't see why not. Yes, he's not the toolsiest guy in the world but few players have better instincts or feel for the game. His glovework is not spectacular; he doesn't have a cannon arm or gold glove range, but it is reliable: he makes all the routine plays and makes few mental mistakes. That's enough if you hit, and Travis hits.
I still wonder about the home run power and doubles seem more likely than lots of home runs. The leap from Double-A to the majors could also be troublesome without any intervening Triple-A exposure. However, given his track record and proven ability to make adjustments, Travis should get the benefit of the doubt even if he struggles initially.
Long-term, he looks like a guy who can hit .280 with some doubles, 10-15 steals, a solid OBP, and reasonable defense. That's a player, and a damn nice thing to find in the 13th round.