Featured image courtesy of MLB.com
In case you haven’t heard, the Boston Red Sox have one of the lowest-ranked farm systems in all of baseball. Thanks to several players making the majors at the same time, multiple trades, and a few years of poor drafting, the cupboard of young talent is somewhat bare for the Red Sox. Still, there are several promising players in the minors, such as reliever Travis Lakins. Lakins is in the midst of a breakout season and is one of the most pro-ready relievers in the farm system.
Lakins entered 2018 as an unremarkable starting prospect, but has been absolutely elite ever since converting to a reliever. So, what led to this success? Does 2018 look like a fluke year, or is this breakout season for real?
Travis Lakins: Prospect Watch
As previously mentioned, Lakins entered the 2018 season as a starter with the Portland Sea Dogs. In 30 innings with the Sea Dogs in 2017, Lakins owned an unimpressive 6.23 ERA, 5.01 FIP, and a 5.64 K/9. Because of these lowly numbers, not much was expected out of the former sixth-round pick.
However, something about switching to the bullpen transformed Lakins into one of the best relief arms in the Red Sox farm system. Since joining the bullpen, Lakins owns a 0.81 ERA with a 0.72 WHIP, 9.67 K/9 and a .108 BAA (batting average against). At first glance, Lakins looks like the real deal, a truly elite pitching arm. But what do his underlying statistics say?
When digging a little deeper, it’s evident that Lakins has been the beneficiary of a considerable amount of batted ball luck. His 3.64 FIP is a solid number, but it’s drastically larger than his 0.81 ERA. Additionally, Lakins has an unsustainably low .143 BABIP as a reliever. The league average typically lies around .290, so Lakins is due for some major regression in this area.
However, just because Lakins is getting lucky doesn’t mean that he isn’t a legit prospect. His ERA won’t stay this low, but he’s still doing a lot of things right. As previously mentioned, his 9.67 K/9 is solid, but he’s also getting good results when batters put the ball in play.
Lakins allowed a 46.9% ground ball rate while at Portland, and a 50% groundball rate at Pawtucket. Ground balls obviously do less damage than fly balls, and Lakins is ensuring batters keep the ball on the ground. Striking out one batter per inning and keeping the ball on the ground is the recipe for success with a reliever. Even when his batted ball luck regresses to the norm, he’ll still be an effective reliever.
The biggest reason for Lakins bullpen improvement has been his fastball velocity. Per Soxprospects.com, as a starter his fastball sat around 93 miles per hour, topping out a 96. However, now that he’s in the bullpen, he can put a little more on each pitch. His fastball now tops out at a staggering 98 miles per hour while typically resting in the mid 90’s. This added velocity makes a considerable difference, as batters are having a harder time catching up to his heat.
While Lakins fastball is his best offering, his cutter also has the ability to get guys out. It’s an interesting pitch in the sense that it does different things depending on how fast he throws it. When he throws it slower, the ball breaks more. When he throws it faster, it has more of a horizontal break. Both versions of the pitch have swing and miss potential, and both play as nice compliments to his fastball.
Lakins also throws a curveball and a changeup, but neither pitch is an elite offering by any means. He hardly uses either one, and neither pitch is anything to write home about. He used them more as a starter, but now primarily uses them to keep runners guessing. They’re not good pitches on their own, but they’re nice weapons to use on rare occasions to fool batters.
Unfiltered Thoughts on Travis Lakins
Is Travis Lakins as good as his ERA suggests? Probably not, but that’s ok because his ERA is absurdly good. Even when normalizing his peripherals, Lakins still would be having a good season. He has strikeout ability and forces batters to hit balls on the ground. His fastball boasts borderline elite speed, and his cutter compliments it very well.
Lakins isn’t on the 40-man roster, so he probably won’t join the major league club in 2018. This is probably for the best, as the reliever would probably benefit from a full season in the minor leagues. However, he’s certainly capable of landing a bullpen spot in 2019. He has the stuff to be a major leaguer and should be a mainstay in the bullpen starting next year.