SCOTTSDALE, AZ–Sam Travis could’ve used the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game as an opportunity to put on a show for the record crowd in attendance or the family and friends watching on MLB Network at home. Where better than an exhibition game to dip your shoulder and try to hit a baseball as far as you can?
That’s not Sam Travis, though. And that’s not what he did.
Entering in the sixth inning with his East Division team trailing by three runs, Travis stepped up to the plate as a pinch-hitter. He took three straight pitches before ultimately taking a walk, staying in his own skin despite the perceived temptation to entertain.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t trying to show anything,” he said following the game. “We were down three runs at the time and it was a 3-0 count with no one on base. I was taking 3-0, especially semi-late in the ball game, sixth inning down three runs, just trying to get something going.
“I’m not here trying to be someone I’m not, trying to prove to people I’m something that I’m not. Just go out, be yourself and have fun.”
It seems simple, but it’s important because from now until the end of Travis’s career, he’ll be compared to people he’s not.
It’ll start with Kyle Schwarber, and that may never end. Schwarber, the power-hitting outfielder/catcher who is a part of a young Cubs core taking baseball by storm, was teammates with Travis at Indiana. The two were in the same freshman class together. They were in the same draft class together.
Travis won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award, not Schwarber. He won the Big Ten Player of the Year award his junior season, not Schwarber. But Schwarber was selected 4th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft. Travis was taken by the Boston Red Sox in the second round, 67th overall.
Travis isn’t on the stage Schwarber is–not yet, at least–but once he gets there, those will be the first comparisons he hears.
“Doesn’t matter to me at all,” he said of being in Schwarber’s shadow. “I knew what he was capable of doing, and he went out and did it. When they were afraid to pitch to him, I was coming up next and trying to make up for them not pitching to him. It was an all-around a team effort, which is why we were so successful at Indiana. We didn’t care about individuals, we were all one and played as a team.”
Travis says there’s no competition between the two and that they remain “good buddies.” But they aren’t the ones controlling that narrative, and it’ll arrive as soon as Travis does.
If it’s not Schwarber, it’ll be something else. Although he may be a secret right now, he won’t be upon arrival. Once Red Sox fans learn his name, the pressure to produce begins immediately. The Red Sox are currently working out Hanley Ramirez, a shortstop-turned-below-average-left-fielder, at first base, which means the team doesn’t have a first baseman. That’s where Travis plays, meaning his time in Boston could start sooner rather than later.
“The biggest thing is you can’t really pay attention to it,” he said. “When your name is called upon, you’ve gotta do the best you can do to help the team win games. That’s why I’m here, that’s what I’ve always been told to do.”
Travis isn’t worried about the guys above him (he watches the Red Sox to see them do well, not to think about his career). He isn’t focused on where he’s ranked on prospect lists (MLB.com ranks him No. 11 in the Red Sox organization and No. 10 for all first basemen). All that Travis is worrying about this fall in Arizona playing on the Scottsdale Scorpions is what he can control.
“It’s one of those things that isn’t in your control,” he said of public expectations and perception. “Go out and have fun and perform like you’ve been doing it forever. Let people think what they want.”
He’s certainly performing like he has forever. Playing at Providence Catholic in New Lenox, IL, multiple local baseball coaches called him the best hitter they’ve ever seen. Prior to the Fall Stars Game, Travis was hitting .328 with a .394 on-base percentage and .452 slugging percentage. His first homer of the season was a walk-off three-run blast in his first game after the Fall Stars Game.
He’s picking up right where he left off last season. Across both High-A and Double-A, his triple-slash was .307/.381/.452 with 32 doubles, six triples and nine homers in 131 games. He also stole 19 bases. That all while being 3.4 years younger than the league average. It was good enough to be named the Red Sox 2015 Minor League Offensive Player of the Year.
However, there are doubts. Most of them surround his power numbers at a power position; he hit just nine homers in 489 at-bats last season. Those doubts are erased once you see him spraying line drives across the field.
Travis used to worry about those kinds of things. He would’ve been bothered by naysayers. Then he turned 8.
“It all started with my dad,” he said of developing his mindset. “He’s been working with me since I can remember. When I was little I used to be scared of the ball. My dad put me into wrestling and since then I’ve started performing. It toughened me up.
“I hated it then, but I appreciate it now that’s for sure.”
If he keeps up his production for the next two weeks heading into the off-season and spring training, the Sam Travis bandwagon in Boston will start to fill. He’s come a long way at 22, but the need for improvement is still there.
In addition to improving his defense, he believes he has plenty left to learn when it comes to hitting.
“Sticking to the basics,” he said about improving at the plate. “Learning what pitchers are going to throw you in what counts, what pitches you can handle and just maturing as a player. Playing against this level of competition, you learn a lot just through experience.”
With family and friends watching from home, Travis didn’t put on the show that will garner headlines at the Fall Stars Game, but he stayed the course that will get him to the show. As the accolades mount, the spotlight grows. It’s something Travis is preparing for with his play doing the talking.
“Obviously it’s a great honor, everything that has happened thus far,” he said. “But I have to keep moving forward, I haven’t accomplished anything yet. (I) Haven’t accomplished the ultimate goal.”
There’s no timetable on when that ultimate goal will be accomplished, but being himself is good enough to get there.