Former 13th-round pick Travis is rising fast
Tigers prospect opens plenty of eyes during his first full season of pro ball
DETROIT -- Devon Travis was the 14th college second baseman selected in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He's now the fifth-ranked second-base prospect in all of baseball.
That says plenty about the find the Tigers seem to have made. Even Detroit officials, however, saw their expectations surpassed when Travis played his way through Class A ball last year in his first full season of professional ball.
And after batting .351 with a .936 OPS combined last year between Class A West Michigan and Class A Advanced Lakeland, slugging 28 doubles and 16 home runs along with 76 RBIs and 22 stolen bases, Travis is now in the spotlight as the highest-rising prospect in the organization. His standing right in the middle of MLB.com's Top 10 second-base prospects furthers that.
Travis will be in camp with the Tigers this spring, and while he won't be vying for an Opening Day job, he'll have a chance to make an impression.
"I think when we identified him out of the Draft, we thought we were getting a very good defensive second baseman with the ability to hit," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said. "Obviously what he's done since he's been in professional baseball [has impressed]."
MLBPipeline.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospects list will be unveiled on Thursday on MLB.com, as well as on a one-hour show on MLB Network, airing at 10 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLBPipeline.com is breaking down baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.
The Tigers have had prospects outplay Draft resumes and scouting reports before, from Drew Smyly's quick rise up the organization a couple years ago to Andy Dirks winning a regular role going into last season.
For Travis to make such a quick rise from the spot where he was drafted is a little harder to find. Matt Joyce's rise from 12th-round pick in 2005 to big league job in Detroit in '08, and eventually an everyday role in Tampa Bay, is the best recent comparison.
Travis was a 13th-round pick two years ago -- partly out of size at 5-foot-9, partly out of position and partly out of questions how his offense would translate to pro ball. He was a key cog in a stacked lineup at Florida State, but the depth of talent on the club left him a little overlooked.
It was a good word from Tigers pro scout Bruce Tanner that helped get him a look. Tanner normally scouts other big league clubs, not Draft prospects, but his Spring Training travels took him to an exhibition game that pitted Florida State against the Phillies.
Tanner, who played college ball at Florida State, liked what he saw.
"From that point, we stayed on Devon," Chadd said. "And every time, he always did something. Whether it was turning a double play, making a great defensive play, getting a big hit, he always did something to help his club."
What the Tigers couldn't measure was his work ethic and his attitude. The more they learned about his intangibles, the more they liked Travis. The work ethic helped carry Travis through an eye-opening 2013 season.
Travis started out at West Michigan with a tear, batting .362 (21-for-58) with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his first 15 games. He hit .341 for the month of April, .343 in May and .379 in June. While the home run power trailed a bit, his doubles power picked up, with 15 combined over May and June.
By the end of June, with little left to prove at West Michigan, Travis moved to Lakeland in the more pitcher-friendly Florida State League. All he did there was bat .406 (39-for-96) in July, then slug eight home runs with 23 RBIs in August.
With that season done, the Tigers made one more aggressive push with Travis by sending him to the Arizona Fall League to compete against high-rated pitching. He couldn't duplicate the stats, hitting .236 with two homers and 12 RBIs, but he still impressed.
Among those watching Travis was Tigers roving instructor Bruce Fields. Though Travis showed signs of tiring near the end, ending up playing 150 games in his first full pro season, Fields said he maintained his approach at the plate and continued to swing through the ball.
That was partly a reflection of the work ethic.
"The common denominator with this guy is his makeup," Chadd said. "It's off the chart."
The reviews out of Arizona helped Travis climb the prospect list. Travis' hitting and running earned 60 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale, along with a 55 for fielding. His overall grade of 50 placed him just behind the top four prospects on the list.
Travis' rise puts the Tigers in the unexpected position of having some prospect depth at second base. Hernan Perez has been seen at Detroit's potential second baseman of the future, and he might have competed for the job this spring had the Tigers not traded Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler.
With Kinsler at second, Perez is expected to open the year at Triple-A Toledo, where he ended last season. That still gives the Tigers a chance to push Travis aggressively with an opening at Double-A Erie.