Metcalf making strides in Frisco

Travis Metcalf is a solid defender at third base

After struggling to adjust to Texas League pitching in 2006, Frisco third baseman Travis Metcalf is off to a solid start in 2007. Lone Star Dugout recently spoke with the former Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year.

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Travis Metcalf has had highs and lows since the Rangers drafted him in the eleventh round of the 2004 draft. He started his career off strong and was named the Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year in 2005.

However, as good as 2005 was for the former Kansas Jayhawk, 2006 was just as bad. In his first attempt at Double-A, Metcalf faltered and hit just .221. He was also surpassed as the organization's top third base prospect by John Whittleman, who is a similar player but is almost five years younger.

Now in his second year in Frisco, Metcalf has rebounded from a tough 2006 and is anchored solidly in the middle of the order for the RoughRiders. In 26 games this year, Metcalf is hitting .290 with four home runs and 17 runs batted in. He started off slowly in 2007, but has rebounded to hit .361 over his last ten games.

Metcalf and his Frisco teammates have combined to hit 33 home runs so far this season. The middle of the Frisco lineup also contains first baseman/designated hitter Emerson Frostad (4 home runs) and Kevin Mahar (3 home runs) who could potentially one day join Metcalf in Arlington.

The adjustment from a power-hitting college third baseman to Rangers' minor leaguer was a smooth one for Metcalf, as he led the Spokane Indians and was among the league leaders with 15 round-trippers.

"It is not really that big of difference between college and pro ball," Metcalf said. "In college it is more of a team atmosphere, you are playing for your school. Here it is more individual based. You still want the team to do well, but you have guys that are playing more for themselves and not necessarily for the team. As far as the competition goes, most of the guys that are playing pro ball were the guys that were really good in college."

His showing in Spokane led the Rangers to aggressively promote him to High-A Bakersfield to start his first full season. Things continued to go smoothly in Bakersfield, as Metcalf was the Blaze's best hitter all season. He once again showed his plus power, as he clubbed 22 home runs and drove in 94 runs. These stats earned him the player of the year award, an award that features Major Leaguers such as Ian Kinsler, Kevin Mench and Juan Gonzalez as past recipients.

"It was a great experience and honor to have my name mentioned with some of the guys who have won the award in the past," Metcalf said. "To have your name in the company of those other guys, with many of them having made it to the big leagues, is a great honor."

The low point of Metcalf's pro career was in Frisco in 2006. The power that he showed the previous two seasons all but disappeared as he hit only eight home runs in addition to his .221 batting average. One positive thing about his 2006 season is that while he struggled at the plate, he didn't let it carry over and affect his defense, as he committed only 15 errors.

Even with his struggles in 2006, forcing him to repeat a level for the first time in his minor league career, Metcalf has taken a positive outlook into the 2007 season.

"I kind of know what to expect this year in Frisco," Metcalf said. "There is nothing I have seen this year that has really surprised me. Last year was a big change from the High-A level, at least for me. There was a big adjustment. This year it is a little bit easier to deal with the adjustments."

The most shocking thing about Metcalf's 2006 season was the lack of power, a tool that he had showed ever since his days in the Big 12 when he starred at Kansas. Metcalf saw limited playing time as a redshirt freshman in 2002, before coming into his own as a sophomore when he hit .288 with 11 home runs.

"My best college memory was my sophomore year we went to LSU and they were ranked fourth I believe," Metcalf said. "We went in to their place and swept them. That was a great experience. The whole college experience of playing with the guys was great."

Metcalf was one of the top players in the Big 12 Conference his junior year, as he had a monster year at the plate and showed great defensive skills at third base. His 18 home runs led the conference. He also set the Kansas record with 29 career long balls. He also showed he could hit top quality pitching, as he hit a home run over the center field wall at Disch-Falk Field off Huston Street.

His years at Kansas also allowed him to play with fellow Rangers farmhand and current RoughRiders teammate Steve Murphy, who played college baseball at Kansas State. While they played for different schools, the two were friends in college and remain friends today.

"Murphy is a good guy, a good player," Metcalf said. "We actually played summer ball together one year in St. Joseph, Missouri, so we got to know each other there. People from KSU thought KU was their rival, but we actually thought Missouri was more of a rival. It wasn't really that big of a deal to us."

While at Kansas he caught the eye of Rangers area scout Mike Grouse, who convinced the Rangers to draft him. Grouse has a great eye for finding late round talent, as he has also been responsible for discovering and drafting Kinsler and Murphy, as well as Cleveland Indians All-Star Travis Hafner.

No one has ever questioned Murphy's defense, so if he regains the power stroke he showed in his first two minor league seasons, he could reach the Major Leagues as a third baseman.

Since turning pro, Metcalf has struck out in nearly 25 percent of his plate appearances, something he must cut down on. He could also draw more walks, which would help boost an on-base-percentage that reached a low of .298 last season.

With Hank Blalock in front of him and John Whittleman behind him in the organization, 2007 is a very important season for Metcalf. Blalock will be a free agent after the 2009 season and has been mentioned in trade rumors in the past, so Metcalf and Whittleman have to be viewed as potential replacements. Because both struggled during 2006, 2007 figures to go a long way in determining what the Rangers' future plans are at third base.

The future remains cloudy for Metcalf. However, if he is able to make the changes to his game that are required, he could follow 2004 Tom Grieve Award Winner Ian Kinsler to the big leagues.

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