Sam Travis is a living, breathing folk hero.
I certainly haven’t hidden my feeling that he eventually will come the closest to replacing David Ortiz‘s bat in the Red Sox lineup — though that is likely still some time away.
But watching him these first few games of the spring (He just launched another home run a couple minutes ago vs the Yankees), it occurs to me he currently belongs in a different class altogether.
Put him up there with Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry and the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Can someone start writing a song already? And please, not the Ode To Koji song from 2013.
Maybe it’s that he’s entirely undersized to be a prototypical first baseman.
Or that he throws with the wrong hand.
Or the way the ball literally transforms into a hyper-speed rocket ship upon glancing off his bat, effortlessly spun around at whip-crack speed by forearms roughly the size and consistency of oak tree branches. That he shirks the confines of undershirts and leaves batting gloves for the softer hands of weaker men.
Maybe it’s the way he uses that power to simply hit the ball — everywhere he has played — with a punishing control and discipline.
How he shrugs off lofty comparisons to names like Goldschmidt with his soft-spoken, easy-going manner.
Or it could be that, coming off the most exciting Spring of anyone on the club, his potential breakout season was cut short before it could even really get going when a tendon in his left knee snapped while he was attempting a routine tag on a rundown last May.
Any good folk legend needs at least a tinge of tragedy, after all.
The tragedy now, if that’s even the right word this year, is that there isn’t any obvious spot to plant him and let him flourish.
The problem with a young ballclub stocked with potentially elite prospects is that every spot on the depth chart is couched heavily with words like “potential” and “promise.”
Travis already sits in the two most shallow spots on the Red Sox roster — gold-glover Mitch Moreland (who is everything prototypically that Travis isn’t at first base) the natural pick to start at first, and slugger Hanley Ramirez having long ago earned the chops to carry on most days as a hitter only.
At best, it would seem, Travis’ road to the Majors this year is either paved with someone else’s injury, or with some sort of loosely defined platoon/reserve role.
With him, it’s not just that he hits for power, or that (I can’t believe I’m going to use the most over-used term in scouting) the ball explodes off his bat. It’s the he patience and poise he’s continuously exhibited at the plate, at every level.
He’s a special player. The type that can readily plug into the foundation of a franchise moving forward.
My inkling is that he starts the year in the Majors (an inkling that grows stronger with every day Hanley’s shoulder tightness persists). (UPDATE 3/27: The Red Sox officially assigned Travis to minor league camp. Hanley, of course, has looked just fine since the shoulder concerns earlier this spring. Moreland too has looked great.).
For the time being, though, we’ll have to see where (and if) the Red Sox find an outlet for him to plug in.
Once they do, watch out. He’s the kind we’ll be talking about for years to come.