By Bob Elliott
PHOENIX _Devon Travisis rounding first and headed for second at the Rogers Centre.
The question is when is his date of arrival.
The Blue Jays obtained Travis, the Detroit Tigers No. 1 rated prospect according to Baseball America, for outfielder Anthony Gose.
“Of course, I think he’ll play in the big leagues, I signed him,” said Detroit Tigers scout Jim Rough from Atlanta, with a laugh. “He has one of the best mental make ups I have ever seen in a player.”
Ryan Goins, back-up Macier Izturis and Travis will compete for the starting job unless another upgrade is made, but the Jays have other holes to worry about.
A National League scout predicts Travis will be the Jays every day second baseman some time this year, “2016 at the latest.”
“I looked right past him at Florida State,” said the evaluator, “then I saw him in the Arizona Fall league last year. Impressive. He makes solid contact and doesn’t strike out a lot. I’ve heard some people throw a Howie Kendrick on him. He might be a second base version of Bill Madlock.”
Third baseman Madlock was a career .305 hitter who won four batting titles with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“He might be average in the field … but the bat. He’ll take Goins’ job for sure,” said the scout. “He will hit a lot of doubles.”
The Tigers drafted Travis in the 13th giving him a $200,000 US signing bonus. He made his debut at class-A Connecticut (.280, .793 OPS), split 2013 between one of the coldest places in organized ball in April and May — class-A West Michigan — and remainder in the hottest — class-A Lakeland — never losing his hitting stride, batting .352 and .350 respectively.
This season he hit .298 with an .817 OPS. He has struck out 134 times in 1,124 pro plate appearances.
Travis told reporters in a conference call he knew something was up when he walked into his house in West Palm Beach at 10:11 PM Wednesday and his cell rang. It was Dave Owen from the Tigers player development calling.
The infielder showed the phone to his parents before answering, predicting he was about to be traded (“Why would Dave call me at 10:11 PM?). And then Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos called.
“He told me I had every opportunity to compete for the job,” Travis said. “It was a cool phone call. How they were happy to have me and looking forward to getting to know me.
“All you can ask for in life is an opportunity and they are going to give me one.”
“I much rather be on their side,” Travis said. “I do believe I can play in the big leagues today.”
Travis turns 24 next spring and has never played at triple-A. Is it reasonable to expect him to make the jump? Dalton Pompey, 21, had 56 at-bats at triple-A Buffalo last year and will be the centre fielder. Brett Lawrie had 329 at-bats at triple-A Las Vegas in 2011 before taking over at third.
Nine weeks past a sports hernia operation, Travis says he is doing everything (sprinting, lifting) but swinging, but will begin Dec. 1 as he does every off season.
The Tigers had planned on sending Travis to Arizona Fall League to convert him to centre field.
“I’ve played second base my entire career,” he said, “but they tell me to bat first, bat ninth, tell me to catch, play centre fine, I’ll do it. When the Tigers asked me to move with a week to go in the season I was “shucks” I was all for it.”
While Travis’ path to the majors was blocked with Ian Kinsler in Detroit he admitted he never envoionsed himself as a centre fielder and is happy to be able to continue as a second baseman.
Travis knows how to size things up.
“Big Poppy (David Ortiz) can come to the park, not feel good and still run into three balls for three home runs,” the 5-foot-9 Travis said. “Little guys we don’t come to the field like that. I’ve always been the smallest on my team from five years of age on up.
“I’m always dirty, diving for balls I couldn’t get.”
Rough predicts that Travis is “a kid fans will love.”
“I don’t consider myself great at anything,” Travis said. “I never take a pitch off, never take an inning off. I have a lot of fun. I like to smile a lot.”
Stroman and Travis are the same size and the newest Jays recalls facing the Duke Blue Devils in ACC play.
“They had this guy playing second, then he comes in to pitch,” Travis said. “We’re thinking this is going to be great he’ll be 84-85 MPH. He’s out there blowing bubbles, throwing 94-95 MPH.”
That was Stroman.
The two met in the AFL last year.
And they’ll be together in Dunedin.