Blue Jays: Why the pressure is on in April for Devon Travis
While he’s likely to be a regular starter for at least April, Devon Travis will need to perform well in the opening month or there’s a good chance he’s not long for Toronto.
We’ve witnessed some pretty drastic changes with the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, covering everything from a new manager, to trading off the majority of the remnants of the 2015-16 playoff teams.
One of the few remaining veterans still on the roster is Devon Travis, and there was a time when some folks were wondering if he’d still be around for Opening Day in 2019. Right now it’s looking like he will be a lineup regular, at least early in the season, and that’s due in large part to the trade of Aledmys Diaz, and the releases of Troy Tulowitzki and Yangervis Solarte. The playing time has opened up in Toronto, and that’s working in Travis’ favour.
That’s important for the 27 year old, as 2018 wasn’t his finest season at the big league level. It’s cause for celebration that he didn’t end up on the disabled list last year, but his .232/.275/.381 slash line represented career lows, and for good chunks of the season he looked pretty lost at the plate. He’s proven to be a much better hitter than that in the past though, and the Blue Jays are hoping he can find the stroke that made him a better than .300 hitter through the first 163 games of his career in 2015-16.
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He should get that chance, at least for the season’s opening month anyway. From there, he’ll have to prove that he’s deserving of playing time, as the infield will start to get more crowded. That’s because Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will likely be arriving sometime near the end of the April, once his (service time has been manipulated) defence and ability to hit Triple-A pitching have been thoroughly evaluated. That’s when Travis could be facing more of a job share situation.
If the season were to start today it’s likely that Travis would be the everyday second baseman, and would be joined by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at shortstop, Brandon Drury at third base, and Justin Smoak at first. Once Vlad Jr. arrives in the big leagues he’s going to take up the majority of the starts at third base, and that will push Drury out of a regular position there. That said, he’s got plenty of experience at second too, and if Travis isn’t holding up his end of the bargain then Drury may not be the one losing out on the majority of playing time.
In fact, it might be Travis’ lack of positional flexibility that ultimately works against him the most, as he’s been strictly a second baseman throughout his career. Drury can play second, third, and in a corner outfield spot, and Gurriel Jr. has experience around the diamond as well. There was brief talk of moving Travis to the outfield at one time a couple of years ago, but nothing ever came of the idea and I sincerely doubt it would be entertained now. However, if Travis can find his stroke and show the ability to be that .300 hitter again, the Blue Jays are going to find playing time for him one way or another.
If not, it’s possible that the Blue Jays could move on from him altogether as a piece of the puzzle, and instead roll with Drury, and/or the talented infielders on the way like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Kevin Smith, among others. I expect Travis will get plenty of opportunities early on, but the first few weeks of the season could be as important to him as anyone on the roster. Here’s hoping he gets off to a healthy and productive start.