Devon Travis was selected the Tigers' Minor Leaguer of the Year in 2013 after he batted .351 in stops at at Lakeland and West Michigan. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
No player at a Tigers farm-club outpost had more steam entering 2014 than a second baseman named Devon Travis.
But one thing about an oblique muscle injury: A baseball player might as well be on crutches and in a cast. Obliques link the abdominal cavity to chest muscles and isn’t that a lovely area to have inflamed when you’re swinging a baseball bat?
Travis missed most of April and May and had been easing back, gently, into the lineup at Double A Erie, where Lance Parrish is manager. But the fluffy stuff ceased last week when Travis showed that obliques do in fact heal.
He is 14-for-26 in his last six games — including a 4-for-4 performance Sunday against Reading — which included two home runs, two triples, and four doubles.
“And they’ve made some unbelievable plays on him the last few days,” Parrish said Sunday. “The right fielder has robbed him twice on liners down the line.
“But he looks good. He’s swinging the heck out of the bat.”
Travis, 23, is a second baseman who was the Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2013 after he batted .351 in 132 games at two Single A stops, West Michigan and Lakeland.
He was not so quietly being considered for a possible ticket to Detroit, either late this year or in 2015. The timetable has unofficially slowed because of Ian Kinsler’s All-Star-grade work for the Tigers and Travis’ oblique ills that have bought time for all the relevant parties.
Travis is a right-handed hitter who looms as that rare case of a draft-day steal. The Tigers had been told by scout Bruce Tanner that Travis, like Tanner a Florida State product, should be taken seriously even if he is listed at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds.
The Tigers got him in the 2012 draft’s 13th round. He promptly hit .280 (.793 OPS) in 25 games with Connecticut ahead of last year’s breakout season when his .430 on-base percentage and .486 slugging average molded a heavy OPS of .916.
Travis played in only four April games this season before the oblique was strained. He made it back in mid-May and began heating up last week.
Defensively, he has been what the book always said about Travis: average to slightly above average.
“He looks good,” Parrish said. “I don’t know if he’s back to 100 percent entirely, because he was out a long time. But I haven’t seen any physical issues.
“He gets good jumps. He’s made a couple of unbelievable plays when he’s had to charge balls and make throws super fast. His quick hands are pretty evident.
“He looks good all the way around. I’m ecstatic. He’s a catalyst for our team, and just a great guy to have around the clubhouse.”
Travis has been dueling for headlines with another SeaWolves farmhand, outfielder Steven Moya, who for the better part of May was busy knocking down Eastern League fences.
Moya hit eight home runs in May as part of the 11 homers he has on the season. Moya’s batting average for May: .311. His OPS: .954, thanks to a .323 on-base percentage and a mammoth slugging percentage of .631, which came courtesy of his fence-clearing blasts, as well as 11 doubles and two triples.
Moya, 22, is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, and bats left-handed. He also strikes out plenty (56 in 51 games) and walks only if he is ordered at gunpoint to do so.
But while he remains one of the rawest of Tigers projects, he is widely regarded as having, yes, hefty potential.
“I expect him to have a very, very bright future,” Parrish said of Moya, who was born in Puerto Rico and lives in the Dominican Republic. “Early on I was skeptical, he was having such a hard time making contact. The last couple of weeks he’s just been a different guy.”
Moya dealt with shoulder issues and Tommy John surgery that blew to pieces some earlier seasons. The Tigers have asked only that Moya get a full year on the farm to show if he is, or isn’t, a player who Parrish said Sunday reminded him of — once again, the comparison — former tall and left-handed Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry.
“He hits the ball a mile,” Parrish said of Moya. “He makes all the plays in the outfield. He has a great arm. And when he gets this hitting thing figured out he’s going to be knocking at the door in a hurry.”