The Minnesota Twins have been longing for right-handed power in their lineup and minor league system for years. The need for a right-handed slugger has increased, especially with the departures of Torii Hunter (signing with Angels via free agency), Delmon Young (traded to Tigers), and Michael Cuddyer (signing with Rockies via free agency) all occurring within the last five years. A temporary fix for power from the right side of the plate brought Josh Willingham to Minnesota last season. He was named the Twins MVP in 2012 when he led the team with 35 home runs and 110 RBI’s. The addition of Willingham brought immediate improvement to a weak right-handed hitting lineup, but questions still arose as to who will provide “pop” from the right side of the plate once Willingham’s tenure with the Twins is through. The answer to those questions may rest on the shoulders of young, right-handed masher, Travis Harrison.
Harrison is a thick guy, listed at 6’1″, 215 lbs. for the Elizabethton Twins where he played his first season of professional baseball. Coming out of High School he was highly touted as one of the best hitters from the state of California as well as one of the top hitters in the country. Because of this, the Twins drafted him in the 2011 draft with the 50th overall pick, a pick they received from the departure of Orlando Hudson.
While playing baseball at Tustin High School, Harrison was the definition of a slugger, with a slash line of .481/.643/1.130 and a home run total of 13 backing up the term. His long arms and short, smooth swing provide plenty of pop off the bat, resulting in line drives all over the field. Couple his production with his sturdy frame and he has all the makings to be bred into a productive, right-handed power hitter as he matures.
After his Senior year, 18-year-old Harrison withdrew himself from eligibility playing as a Trojan at the University of Southern California when he signed his $1.05 million bonus the Twins offered him. The amount the Twins paid Harrison to pass on college shows how much they coveted his abilities and upside potential. However, Harrison signed too late in the season and he had to delay his first year as a professional. But once he made his debut for Elizabethton in 2012, it was clear why he was picked as the 50th overall pick in 2011.
Playing in his first season in the Twins organization, Harrison played in 60 games and showed some of his potential by producing a .301/.383/.461 slash line. The now 19-year-old’s inaugural season does not jump off the page at first glance, but a little tip-of-the-iceberg syndrome is definitely present. By maintaining a high batting average of .301 against tougher pitching than in high school was a promising sign. Power hitters tend to occasionally be able to drive the ball over the fence in the early stages of their careers but fail to keep the batting average high when not connecting with the long ball. In Harrison’s case, he experienced a consistent batting average with a few long balls along the way (5 home runs) which will be an excellent building block to work off of. With proper coaching, his swing and power project out for him to be quite a formidable hitter in the higher levels.
However, with all young prospects, there are a few knocks against them. Scouts and coaches have noticed that Harrison is struggling with “adjusting to breaking balls”, according to Aaron Gleeman’s write up on Twins prospects. Currently Harrison plays third base, but many believe he will be transitioning to the other corner position as he continues to fill out as he matures. He also committed 24 errors in his 60 games played in and will have to limit those mistakes in order for his to defense to catch up with his bat, which will seemingly progress through the ranks quite swiftly.
Projection: Travis Harrison has the “slugger-esque” traits the Twins have been searching for in their minor league system for years. Although Miguel Sano projects out to be a more powerful right-handed hitter, teams can never have enough offense from either side of the plate and Harrison adds depth from the right side. Eventually a time will come to see if he can stay at third base or be moved to first base, but until then he will be sticking at third as he progresses through his professional career. Regardless of how his glove is, the real draw has and always will be his bat. As Twins fans watch young prospects mature through the system, it is hard not to salivate over a potential 2016 or 2017 Major League lineup featuring the likes of Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, and Travis Harrison, assuming all the projections come true of course. Harrison is young and has plenty of time to grow, especially with Sano currently ahead of him on the proverbial depth chart at third base, there is no need to rush him through the ranks. Harrison will likely start the season in Elizabethton but if he continues to rake down there he will undoubtedly be moved up to Low-A in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is always hard to project when a player will, or could, crack a Major League lineup but as his power and swing are groomed, I can see Harrison potentially being a call-up during the 2015, but more likely 2016 season.