When Alex Anthopoulos traded former can’t-miss prospect, Anthony Goseto the Motor City last November, no one from within the Blue Jays organization could have predicted the type of April that was in store for their prized return.
In 2012, Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers made Devon Travis a 13th round pick out of Florida State University. Upon signing, Tigers brass quickly inserted the then 21-year-old into their class-A Connecticut lineup where he responded by hitting at a respectable clip of .280 over 25 games.
A year later, Travis would split time between the class-A Michigan Whitecaps and the class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers where he would combine to post an outstanding OPS of .936 over 132 games on the season.
As the baseball world was beginning to take notice of Detroit’s impressive infield prospect, the Tigers, who were fresh off a heartbreaking American League Championship Series loss to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox squad, were working feverishly to shake things up in an attempt to push themselves over the top.
In a series of moves designed to give the AL Central champions a new sense of cohesiveness inside the clubhouse, Detroit sent Prince Fielder (and $30 million US) to the Texas Rangers in exchange for three-time all-star Ian Kinsler who joined the Tigers with four years remaining on his contract.
With Kinsler welcomed in to the mix, Travis would be essentially blocked at his native position.
Knowing this, the Tigers decision makers had drawn up designs intended on having the hard-hitting infielder convert his defensive positioning in to the outfield, but save for three games (and a perfect seven defensive chances) a year later, it was at second base where the native of Palm Beach would remain.
Undeterred by Kinsler’s presence with the big club, Travis would slash .298/.358/.460 in an even 100 games with double-A Erie in 2014, earning the moniker of “Top Prospect” by the time Baseball America had compiled it’s highly regarded list by season’s end.
When Detroit dealt a plethora of talent away in order to land the services of left-hander David Price at the July 31st Trade Deadline in 2014, one of the players they parted ways with was Austin Jackson, the fleet-footed outfielder who had patrolled centerfield for the Tigers since breaking into the Majors in 2010.
Although the move strengthened Detroit’s pitching corps, it came with the price tag of quality defense in the outfield… A price that would cost the Tigers dearly as they were swept in the AL Division Series a few short months later.
Quick to fix his team’s inadequacies, Dombrowski returned to the trade market in search of a speedy outfielder to strengthen his club up the middle.
Aware of his assets, he would dangle Travis as trade bait in hopes of landing the best return possible.
Over in Toronto, with Kevin Pillar, Jose Bautista, and Anthony Gose all remaining in the fold, the Blue Jays, who saw Dalton Pompey’s meteoric rise from class-A Dunedin in 2014, suddenly had a deep roster of internal options with regards to their outfield.
With Colby Rasmus hitting the free-agent market, management would elect to run with Pompey in centre, thus making a decision that suddenly rendered Gose expendable.
Enter Dombrowski, who, with Travis, could fill not only his vacancy left behind in the wake of Jackson’s departure, but also provide Toronto with a top flight second base prospect, something the Blue Jays haven’t had since the days ofAaron Hill.
During a flurry of additional Blue Jays related action, a Gose-for-Travis trade was consummated on Nov. 12, 2015 with both parties thrilled over the talent they received in the deal.
Flash forward six months, and Gose, playing for the first place Detroit Tigers, ended April hitting a robust .314 and producing offensive numbers strong enough to lead all Tigers outfielders.
Having earned a shot with the Blue Jays out of spring training, the five-foot-nine infielder (as of May 1) leads a Blue Jays lineup that features established sluggers Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson and Bautista in nearly every offensive category including extra base hits (12), batting average (.325) , home runs (six) and runs batted in (19 )to name a few.
In fact, the fourth year pro leads all MLB rookies in runs, RBIs, home runs, hits, batting average, on base plus slugging percentage and total bases.
Aided by the six home runs (he had 10 in 396 AB’s at double-A in 2014), Travis’ April slugging percentage of .658 is the highest mark posted by a rookie second baseman since 1949 … nearly 100 points stronger than his closest competition in Jerry Coleman of the New York Yankees.
Needless to say, it’s been quite the month for the Blue Jays second baseman.
Like a World Series championship, no Rookie of the Year title has been awarded in the month of April and one would think that in time, opponents will begin to exploit Travis’ weaknesses at the dish in an attempt to lower his gaudy numbers back to something within the range of the league average.
But for the time being, we can sit back an enjoy this run as Devon Travis, who has yet to play a triple-A game in his three-plus seasons as a professional, continues to impress at the Major League level.