No question, any player who misses substantial time like Sam Travis did in 2016 would find himself chomping at the bit to return to the field - the quicker the better.
All in due time, however.
A fateful defensive rundown between first and second base on May 29 resulted in Travis undergoing season-ending surgery in early July to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Immediately when the injury unfolded, the 23-year-old first base prospect was told there was no sense in fighting the fact he would miss the season's final three months. Therefore, block out the idea of a strict rehab timetable.
"It was a setback, but you've got to trust the process and do what you're told," Travis said.
There was an end goal.
Rather than dwelling on his disappointment, Travis, selected by Boston in the second round of the 2014 draft, used the first significant injury of his professional career for motivation. He became bound and determined to answer the bell when the appropriate time arrived in 2017.
"I want to be good to go by spring training," Travis said during a winter visit to McCoy. "I'm not going to settle for anything less, honestly."
As the eventual mid-February report date to Fort Myers, FL drew closer, Travis, with conviction in his voice, proclaimed he was no longer bound by strict limitations. He got the clearance he sought when a checkup with Red Sox head team orthopedist Dr. Peter Asnis was nixed.
Asnis performed the corrective procedure on Travis, thus his opinion carried significant weight. After reviewing a video that Travis had sent of him working out, Asnis scraped the inperson visit from his appointment calendar.
"He was that impressed," Travis said. "I knew I was going to be 100 percent for spring training."
"Sam really pushed the rehab process and that's part of why he's back ready to go," Red Sox Assistant Director of Player Development Brian Abraham said. "He's worked hard to get to where he needs to be and followed our medical staff's programs."
Had his first season with the PawSox not been short-circuited, Travis would have likely found himself in the mix for a possible September call-up once the minor-league season ended. He was leading the International League in RBI (29) at the time of his ACL setback and owned a triple slash line that read .272/.332/.434.
At first base, he made noticeable progress during his two months in Pawtucket and seemed ticketed to make even more gains with the glove as the season progressed.
"He can flat-out hit," PawSox manager Kevin Boles said. "Defensively we did see some improvements, but there's still work to do there. He knows that, but what he did as far as work routines and what he did with (PawSox coach) Bruce Crabbe … they worked very well together."
All future considerations came to a grinding halt the night before Memorial Day.
Looking to properly execute a rundown sequence that he's done on so many occasions stretching back to his Little League days in Chicago, Travis instead fell awkwardly as he neared the second-base bag.
The youngest player on Pawtucket's 2016 opening day roster remembers how everything unfolded, starting with catching the pickoff attempt at first base and chasing hard after Indianapolis baserunner Max Moroff.
"I was getting close to (Moroff) and about to give a little throw to (PawSox shortstop) Deven Marrero at second. If it had been a split second earlier or later … (Moroff) tried to juke me out but my foot was in the air as I got set to plant it after throwing" Travis described. "With my upper body, I reached to tag (Moroff) while I was still in position to throw.
"Right when it happened, it just felt awkward. I knew my body did not move that way," Travis delved further.
Travis required assistance in order to get off the field and into the PawSox clubhouse. The following day, he was placed on the disabled list for the first time in his three-year minor-league career.
Keeping His Spirits Up
"I watched the replay the next day," Travis said. Understandably, Travis struggled with his newfound reality in the days following the bad news.
"Talking to him on the phone, it was tough. He was down in the dumps," Boles said.
A phone call from Red Sox manager John Farrell helped to perk up Travis, who relocated to Fort Myers for pre-surgery rehab that centered on strengthening the muscles around his knee. Named Boston's 2015 Minor League Offensive Player of the Year, Travis made a positive impression during his time with the parent club during the 2016 Grapefruit League season, hitting .469 with a 1.147 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging).
"It was great to hear from John (Farrell) at the time. It made me feel real good," said Travis. "I was still in shock, but he put me in a better mood with that phone call and put a smile on my face. It was definitely appreciated."
The messages for a smooth recovery with no setbacks also came from a wide-range of Red Sox personnel, the list of notables including front-office members (Dave Dombrowski), coaches (Brian Butterfield), and players (Dustin Pedroia, Blake Swihart). The entire PawSox coaching staff also checked in with Travis as did several of his Pawtucket teammates.
"It was nice to know that they were all behind me and let me know that everything's going to be alright," said Travis.
More words of encouragement came from Chicago Cubs rookie sensation Kyle Schwarber, who teamed up with Travis at the University of Indiana. Schwarber was involved in an outfield collision in early April and tore two ligaments in his left knee, including his ACL.
Like Travis, Schwarber had surgery and sat out the rest of the regular season. The postseason was a different story as Schwarber came back in time for the World Series - and went 7-for-17, no less, for the eventual 2016 champions.
Schwarber clearly worked his tail off to return to the Cubs. To those in the Red Sox organization who know Travis the best, there's no question he was fueled by a similar can-do spirit after seeing his former Hoosier blood brother make quite the splash on baseball's biggest stage following a lengthy injury-related stay on the sidelines.
By the same token there's also the need to make sure someone of Travis' sheer determination didn't accelerate the prescribed rehab program to the point where a relapse occurs.
"Whether he's hurt or not, you always have to watch him. He'll work himself to death," Boles said. "Those are the players you want, but you've got to keep him under control.
"No one is going to outwork him or beat him mentally," Boles added. "What I love about Sam is that he knows he's better than everybody. That's his mindset. There's very few guys who can turn the page after going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Those are the guys who are above-average major-league players; they don't waiver. He has the right motor and is wired right."
A Fresh Start in 2017
Travis entered the 2017 season as the 4thrated prospect in the Red Sox farm system per Baseball America. He also sneaked into the preseason top 100 prospect rankings by ESPN's Keith Law (No. 98).
Not yet on the Red Sox 40-man roster, Travis was a non-roster invitee to 2017 spring training for the second straight year. The one-year deal Boston inked with former Texas first baseman Mitch Moreland during the 2016-17 offseason suggests the club's baseball operations department was comfortable enough with Travis' recovery path to refrain from giving out a long-term deal that in turn blocked his road to the majors.
With Moreland not guaranteed anything beyond 2017 in a Red Sox uniform, a strong season with the PawSox could vault Travis into contention for the starting first baseman's job as soon as next year. First things first as Travis has his eye firmly set on getting back onto the field and making up for lost time following a lengthy interruption in his quest to become a major-league contributor.
"I can't wait," Travis said as spring training began. "You can't put it into words."
Echoing those sentiments, Boles said, "I can't wait to see him swing the bat again."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.