Editorials

The Breakout Year: Starring Devon Travis

Blue Jays

Devon Travis (AKA: A man possessed) has taken his game to the next level. The moment calls to remember where he came from while looking ahead to what has the makings of a very bright future.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

If it didn’t strike you during his impressive start to last season, Devon Travis’s recent hot streak all but finalizes the perspective on where he came from. When you take into account that Anthony Gose is currently suiting up in Double-A (his second demotion of the season), feel free to officially categorize the Jays’ 2014 swap with Detroit as a smashing success.

However, considering Travis’s name hardly popped up in any “Top Prospect” conversation, it’s safe to assume Toronto initially viewed the deal as nothing more than an exchange of positional needs with equal amounts of upside. It just goes to show you how much of an inexact science it can be when it comes to determining what will (or won’t) translate from the minors to the bigs, even when every single physical attribute of a player is put through the analytical ringer. Better yet, it shows how much the focus surrounding a player can shift when labels get tossed around. Owning a career minor league OPS of .855 after 1200-plus plate appearances tends to take a backseat when you’re considered “too undersized” to make a substantial impact at the next level.

Sound familiar? Perhaps the preliminary scouting reports on this year’s frontrunner for MVP will jog your memory. And last time I checked, Jose Altuve’s path to world domination won’t be impeded anytime soon.

Now, I couldn’t possibly dare to compare Travis to Altuve anymore than that, right? Well, keeping an open mind is a far more productive exercise. Hear me out:

The safe route suggests we should pump the breaks on letting any Altuve comparisons run wild (at least for the time being), even if the temptation to do so is becoming difficult to ignore. For what it’s worth, though, the Baseball Gods might be trying to tell us something after the two made identical game-saving defensive plays where the lead runner was thrown out at third instead of opting for the double play. It takes more than talent to pull off that risk, not to mention being a prime example that Travis’s situational awareness and confidence level are currently operating at an off-the-charts clip.

There’s more to it than just the eye test, though. So how about crunching a few numbers to get a potential sneak peak of the future:

Since Travis has yet to play a full season, let’s combine his first two years. This will be a combo of stats that simulate what might be in store over a full campaign. It includes his shoulder problems, and the extended stretch where he struggled at the plate after coming off the disabled list, which makes it that much more realistic.

He also turned 25 years old in the offseason, so we’ll split the years down the middle and treat this stat line as if it was his age 25 season:

  • Plate Appearances: 472
  • At-Bats: 456
  • Batting Average: .304
  • HR: 18
  • RBI: 69
  • OBP: .351
  • Slugging Percentage: .497
  • OPS: .848
  • Walk Percentage: 6.7
  • Strikeout Percentage: 20.1
  • Total Bases: 227

With those in place, here’s Altuve’s actual stats from last season. Numbers that were also put up at the age of 25.

*Also keep in mind that these numbers come attached with 217 extra plate appearances, 182 extra at-bats, and a whopping 3.5 years of Major League experience already under his belt:

  • Plate Appearances: 689
  • At-Bats: 638
  • Batting Average: .313
  • HR: 15
  • RBI: 66
  • OBP: .353
  • Slugging Percentage: .459
  • OPS: 812
  • Walk Percentage: 4.7
  • Strikeout Percentage: 9.7
  • Total Bases: 293

In case you’re not aware of why Altuve has transformed into the aforementioned MVP frontrunner, his leap in production since has been a nightly highlight reel.

His season stat line to date:

PA: 504, AB: 440: BA: .361, HR: 19, RBI: 68, OBP: .427, SLG: .570, OPS: .998, BB%: 9.5, SO%: 9.7, TB: 251

The Moral of the Story: Go ahead and put Devon Travis into the 2017 MVP conversation. And I’m only being about 40 percent sarcastic!

Ok, deep breath, I’ll refrain from getting too excited. But the fact that his full season (albeit simulated) has either surpassed, come close, or fell just short of the numbers Altuve put up in 2015 (in a significantly less number of opportunities) suggests the comparisons have substance. Dynasty fantasy owners might want to strike while the price is still relatively low, as well.

He’ll never match Altuve’s speed or stolen base prowess, but they share the same compact stroke, similar tenacity, and once he shaves his strikeout rate by learning that a taking a walk is just as good as ripping a single down the line, that 40 percent sarcasm will rapidly decrease.

UPDATE: Anthony Gose is sporting a shiny .351 batting average with 3 homers and 3 steals over his last 10 games (37 AB).

Is there still time for Detroit to recoup a bit of what they thought they were getting? It doesn’t help matters when you open up that batting average and find out it also includes a 16 to 2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With his uninspiring numbers across both minor league levels — .279 OBP / .586 OPS — it’s fair to say he might never get his act together.

To completely write Gose off as a future impact player would be hypocritical, though, while undermining the very basis of what Travis represents at the same time. If this season has taught us anything (look no further than J.A. Happ and Michael Saunders), waiting for the big picture to play out can be highly beneficial. Hell, this organization is presently built on late-bloomers.

Which reminds me, those pesky Baseball Gods (oh, they’re real) have a funny way of connecting the dots:

As much as we should be chomping at the bit to watch Altuve’s Astros visit T.O. to set off our Friday night, I do recommend keeping one eye on A-Rod’s last game in a Yankee uniform. Or perhaps, ever. Whether you love him, hate him, or despise him, history is history; plan your channel surfing accordingly.

Speaking of history, this A-Rod saga brings the other members of MLB’s farewell tour to mind:

  • Prince Fielder will forever be connected to the Jays. But his unfortunate spinal injury puts the fact that he used to take batting practice at Exhibition Stadium into a very gloomy perspective. If there’s one positive takeaway from such a shame, finshing your career with the same amount of homers as your Pops (319), despite the reported fueds they’ve had in past, should allow for some meaningful reflection for both of them.
  • Mark Teixeira becoming only the fifth switch-hitter of all time to hit 400 Home Runs deserves everyones respect.
  • Big Papi? He really should reconsider. Though something tells me that’s gonna be one hell of a retirement party.

As for the Jays, with seven contracts (Bautista, Edwin, Saunders, Dickey, Barney, Cecil and Feldman) all up for grabs at season’s end, it reminds us that this team could look drastically different in 2017. Travis couldn’t have picked a better time to breakout, as it not only helps stabilize any potential offseason loss, but it would also assist any need to transition to a new core. It doesn’t hurt that Travis will still be playing under his pre-arbitration contract moving forward, either. Which in turn, allows funds to be allocated elsewhere. Let the Tim Tebow sweepstakes, begin!

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