Tigers' prospect watchers have worried for years about the lack of middle infielders being developed. Suddenly the Tigers have Jose Iglesias at shortstop, producing a year's worth of highlights in less than a month. He also has hit .299 in his 67 at bats with an above-average .338 on base percentage. Iglesias will not be a free agent until 2019, so if he keeps this up, shortstop is solved.
But who will be his partner in the keystone combination? Omar Infante will be a free agent after this year. Even if he returns, his range will decline with age. Infante's recent injury provided a chance to see Hernan Perez, who may be the answer. But lurking right behind Perez is Devon Travis.
Devon Travis was drafted out of Florida State University last year and skipped his senior year to sign with Detroit. After playing in the College World Series, he went straight to Connecticut and slashed .280 / .352 / .441 in 25 games. He started 2013 in West Michigan where he improved to .352 / .430 / .486 in 77 games. But at 22 years old he was a bit old for the league. Travis was promoted to Advanced-A Lakeland where he has continued the torrid pace, hitting .356 / .417 / .509 in 40 games. The batting average would be first in the Florida State League, on base percentage second, and slugging percentage third if he had enough plate appearances. His combined triple slash line is .353 / .426 / .494 with less than two weeks remaining in the season.
Let's compare Devon Travis to the top hitting second basemen in the major leagues, and see how those players performed at his age. The players are ranked by weighted on-base average.
1. Robinson Cano played his season in Advanced-A, in the same Florida State League as Travis, in 2003. But he was only 20 when he hit .276 / .313 / .377. He was promoted to AA mid-year and improved to .280 / .341 / .366. Cano was in Triple-A at age 22 and hit .333 / .368 / .574. Advantage: Cano
2. Matt Carpenter was drafted out of college in the thirteenth round. He was still in college at age 22. He made Advanced-A at 23 but hit poorly. At age 24 he stayed in the Florida State League hitting .283 / .441 / .404. Two years later he was in St. Louis. Advantage: Travis
3. Chase Utley was drafted out of college in the first round. He played a full season in the Florida State League at age 22 and hit .257 / .324 / .422. Advantage: Travis
4. Jason Kipnis was drafted out of college in the second round. His first professional assignment was in the New York - Pennsylvania League like Travis, but a year older. He played Advanced-A at age 23 and hit .300 / .387 / .478. He was promoted to Double-A that year and actually improved. Advantage: Travis
5. Dustin Pedroia was drafted out of college in the second round. He tore up Advanced-A at age 20 with a .336 / .417 / .523 triple slash line. By age 22 he was in Boston. Advantage: Pedroia
6. Omar Infante was in Lakeland at 18 years old. He hit .274 / .324 / .340, which was impressive given his age. At 22 he played a full season in Detroit with a 2.1 bWAR. Advantage: Infante
7. Howie Kendrick (5' 10") was drafted in the tenth round out of community college. He was in Advanced-A by age 21 slashing .384 / .521 / .638 at Rancho Cucamonga , where everybody hits. He was in Los Angeles by age 22 with a 1.5 bWAR in half a season. Advantage: Kendrick
8. Ben Zobrist was drafted in the sixth round out of college, where he had played at age 22. He did not play Advanced-A until age 24, and crushed .333 / .475 / .496. His age prevented him from being a top prospect, but he was in Tampa Bay by the end of the following year. Once he was made a regular in 2009, he averaged 7 bWAR for four years! Advantage: Travis
9. Neil Walker was drafted in the first round and already in Advanced-A at age 19. He played a full season in the Carolina League at 20 and hit .284 / .345 / .409. By 22 he was in Triple-A. Advantage: Walker
10. Ian Kinsler was drafted in the 17th round out of college. At age 22 he tore up the Midwest League slashing .402 / .465 / .692, skipped Advanced-A, and impressed at Double-A with a .300 / .400 / .480 line. Advantage: Kinsler
Devon Travis played through a knee injury in college, which may have prevented him from displaying his full potential. When combined with his height of 5' 9", he fell to the thirteenth round of the draft. Dustin Pedroia is 5' 8", and in the post-PED era this should be less of a concern. Matt Carpenter, Howie Kendrick, and Ian Kinsler provide hope for later-round draft picks.
Travis was further along the development curve at age 22 than four of the top ten second basemen in the major leagues. A more comprehensive study would evaluate all of the players in Advanced-A at age 22 who hit comparably. After all, Don Kelly was playing middle infield for Lakeland at 23 and hit .317 / .401 / .409. Will Devon Travis end up more like Dustin Pedroia or Don Kelly?