Earlier this week the Red Sox announced they are sending 24-year-old first baseman Sam Travis to play in the Dominican Winter League. The plan is for 25-year-old catcher Blake Swihart to join him, however that is yet to be finalized.
With Mitch Moreland playing on a one-year contract, the starting first base slot for 2018 is wide open. Sam Travis has long been the heir apparent to the role, but after a less than stellar 2017, the Red Sox feel he could use more playing time this year.
Since being drafted in 2014, the goal for Travis has always been to fill the recent stop-gap at first base. He suffered an ACL tear early in the 2016 season; an injury that potentially kept him off the Red Sox Opening Day roster this season.
Travis has struggled, by his standards, between Triple-A and the Majors this season. However, as of late the Red Sox have turned to him to fill out the lineup against left-handed pitching. In the Majors this year, Travis is slashing .400/.488/.543 with five doubles in 41 plate appearances against lefties. Unfortunately, against right-handed pitching, he’s only hitting .143/.182/.190. If Travis wants to be anything besides a platoon at first base, he needs to get better at hitting RHP.
Travis believes these numbers are not who he is at the plate. He recently spoke with Christopher Smith of Masslive.com about his season.
"“It just didn’t work out this year,” said Travis. “That’s baseball. There were times when I came through. There were times when I didn’t. And that’s the beauty of this game. You’re not always going to come through. But more times than not, I want to be that guy to come through. I just think it was pretty unacceptable this year.”"
When asked about his plans for the offseason he added, “You can never get enough practice, man. Reps. More reps. Everything.” Safe to say Sam Travis is looking forward to extending his season in the Dominican.
Blake Swihart is a different story. Swihart started 78 games at catcher for the Red Sox in 2015, but the Red Sox organization was never happy with his defense. He was the Opening Day catcher in 2016 but was sent down to Pawtucket after only six games.
The Red Sox wanted his bat in the lineup and tried him at left field. It worked for fairly well for the 13 games he played in Boston. In that small sample size, he hit .250/.353/.386 with no home runs and 14 strike outs. He was playing the field pretty well for a player new to the position. And then something awful happened.
On June 4, Swihart badly inured his ankle chasing after a foul ball at Fenway Park. The injury would require surgery and Swihart was forced to miss the rest of the 2016 season. He’s been struggling to regain his pre-injury form and missed more time this season with additional injuries.
The Red Sox haven’t hammered out all the details yet, but plan for Blake to be playing in the Dominican with Travis. A stint in the Dominican League won’t be the only thing these two have in common.
The Red Sox have been playing Swihart around the infield this season in an effort to get his bat back in the lineup. A trip down to the Dominican offers Swihart a chance to continue to get defensive reps at catcher and first base, and a shot at getting his swing back. In a second straight injury shortened year, Swihart hit .190/.246/.292 with 4 home runs in Pawtucket.
Swihart is out of minor league options in 2018, and this may be his last shot to earn a spot on the roster. Speaking to Christopher Smith of Masslive.com Farrell went over the plan for Swihart.
"“We recognize where he’s at contractually going into next year. Trying to create some versatility on the defensive side of things is part of the overall plan. That’s where he’s been getting some work pregame. And then we’ve had to balance how many days he can get on the field just because of the restrictions from the ankle.”"
Christian Vazquez is locked in as the starting catcher next season, but with Sandy Leon batting just .180/.272/.281 in the second half, the second catcher spot looks to be up for grabs. If Swihart comes back from the Dominican with a revitalized swing and some defensive flexibility, it will go a long way towards earning that roster spot. Hopefully, the ankle is healthy enough for Swihart to be sent to winter ball because he sure could use the extra playing time.
The Dominican Winter League runs from late October to late December. The Red Sox have yet to finalize their rosters, but look to see a few more names be sent down to the Caribbean for the winter. Last season Rafael Devers, Austin Maddox, Marco Hernandez, and Eduardo Rodriguez all logged some playing time.