First baseman Sam Travis is on the bubble of making the Boston Red Sox roster. Could adding additional positions to his repertoire improve his chances?
Versatility is a useful skill in almost any sport. For baseball players, the ability to cover multiple positions potentially opens up more playing time by giving the manager flexibility when filling out the lineup card. That flexibility may be the key to Sam Travis making the Boston Red Sox roster.
The Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman reports that the Red Sox want to expand Travis’ versatility by giving him time in a corner outfield spot this spring.
While the Red Sox have enviable depth in the infield, their options in the outfield are lacking. Boston has one of the best starting trios of outfielders in baseball. They are expected to be backed up by Brock Holt and Blake Swihart, both of whom may be better suited for other positions. J.D. Martinez has been told he’ll see some time in the outfield but ideally he will serve primarily as the designated hitter.
If Travis proves capable of handling a corner outfield spot then it could open a path to more playing time.
The 24-year old has appeared in only 21 games as a first baseman at the major league level. Each of those games came in 2016. In that minuscule sample size, he rates as a slightly below-average defender. Travis has posted -1 defensive runs saved in 140 career innings at the position. His .992 fielding percentage also leaves a lot to be desired.
Travis is currently blocked at first base by the platoon of Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland. It may take an injury to one of them for Travis to see enough playing time to warrant taking up a roster spot if he’s limited to playing first base. That’s not a far-fetched notion given Hanley’s injury history. Travis owns a career .381 average against left-handed pitching, making him an ideal platoon partner with Moreland. However, it would likely mean starting Travis in Tripe-A Pawtucket awaiting an opportunity.
The one concern with trying Travis in the outfield is that it may hinder his development at first base. That may be detrimental to his future if that’s the position he’s best suited for in the long run. He may be only an average defender at first now but he’s young enough to improve. Spending time learning new positions will only slow that progress. It may be the quickest path to playing time in the short term but isn’t necessarily the best option for his career.
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Versatility is great but the Red Sox have a number of utility players. Perhaps there’s no such thing as having a roster that is too versatile but there may be a problem with forcing the matter. That’s what they did with Swihart. Rather than allow him time to polish his defensive skills behind the plate, the Red Sox spread his focus over several different positions. They’ve turned him into a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Is sending Travis down the same path really what’s best for his future?
It’s unclear if that future will even be in Boston. Ramirez could come off the books after this season, allowing Travis to take over the platoon share at first with Moreland. A year later, Moreland could be gone. Is Travis the solution at the position beginning in 2020?
If the Red Sox envision Travis being their primary first baseman down the line then his focus should remain on improving at that position. If he’s not in their future plans then expanding his versatility makes sense in terms of filling the team’s needs. They also could be showcasing his ability to play multiple positions to showcase him for a potential trade.
Keep an eye on how much time Travis sees in the outfield this spring and how he performs. The outcome may have a significant impact on his long-term outlook.