Travis Lee

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Travis Reynolds Lee

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Biographical Information[edit]

Travis Lee won a bronze medal for the United States at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He played nine years in the major leagues.

Amateur Career[edit]

Lee hit .365 with 5 HR and 40 RBI for the Alaska Goldpanners in 1993. Baseball America later said that he was considered "the best high school player in the history of the Alaska leagues." He hit .299 with 41 RBI and 33 steals for the 1994 Goldpanners and managers named him the best professional prospect in the circuit. In 1995, Lee hit .405, slugged .568 and had 42 RBI for Team USA, helping them to a National Baseball Congress World Series title and a stunning four-game sweep of Cuba. Lee led Team USA in average and was second to Jacque Jones in RBI. Other future major leaguers he outhit included Troy Glaus, Mark Kotsay, Casey Blake and Warren Morris. He won the Baseball America Summer Baseball Player of the Year Award.

In 1996, Lee hit .355 and slugged .627 for San Diego State with 33 steals. He was the All-Conference first baseman and split Western Athletic Conference West Division Player of the Year honors with Triple Crown winner Robert Fick. Lee was named a first-team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association and Baseball America and won the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur baseball player in the country. In the 1996 Olympics, Lee hit .382/.475/.676 for Team USA as one of the better first basemen in the tournament; Nobuhiko Matsunaka outslugged him though he had a lower OBP. Lee helped the USA to a Bronze Medal.


Lee was a client of agent Scott Boras. He was chosen second overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 1996 amateur draft after Kris Benson, but, along with fellow first-rounders John Patterson, Matt White and Bobby Seay, used a loophole - Rule 4 (E) to claim free agency when he was not provided with a formal contract offer within a set number of days. This Boras-inspired tactic resulted in a major bidding war. Lee was signed as a free agent by the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks shortly thereafter for considerably more money than the Twins were willing to offer - $10 million, more than twice the record for an amateur signing (Livan Hernandez ($4.5 million) had held the record). The previous record for an American was Benson's $2 million; Jerry Colangelo and Joe Garagiola Jr. defended the deal.

One year in the minors[edit]

Lee hit .363/~.422/.690 in 61 games for the High Desert Mavericks, winning raves. Baseball America named him the best batting prospect, best power hitter and top overall prospect in the California League. Despite his limited time, he made the All-Star team at first base. Had he qualified, he would have led the league in average (two points over Ramon Hernandez) and slugging percentage.

He was loaned to the Milwaukee Brewers later in 1997 so that he could play in AAA, since the Diamondbacks, which had not played their first game yet, did not have a minor league AAA affiliate yet. He hit .300/~.384/.573 in 59 games for the Tucson Toros. Baseball America rated him the #4 prospect in the Pacific Coast League behind Paul Konerko, Jose Cruz Jr. and Neifi Perez and ahead of Todd Helton and Derrek Lee. Baseball America also called him the "Most Exciting Player" in the PCL. His .631 slugging percentage that year almost led the affiliated minors, as he was second to Ben Grieve, 9 points behind.

Lee then hit .267 and slugged .407 for the Grand Canyon Rafters of the Arizona Fall League.

Fine MLB start[edit]

He was hyped as a budding star, but after a solid rookie season in 1998, during which he hit .269 with 22 home runs, he regressed significantly; perhaps he had peaked at age 23 or earlier. In 1998, he led NL rookies with 67 walks and had tied for the Diamondbacks lead in homers with Devon White, two ahead of Matt Williams and Jay Bell. He finished third in voting for the 1998 National League Rookie of the Year Award, trailing Kerry Wood and Helton. His OPS+ of 102 was a bit low for a first baseman, but it was presumed he would improve over time.

Decline in Arizona and Philadelphia[edit]

His batting average fell to .237 in 1999, with 9 home runs in 120 games, and stole 17 bases in 20 tries (all in the first half). He then started the 2000 season hitting .232/.308/.397 in 72 games. This prompted Arizona to trade him with Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa and Vicente Padilla to the Philadelphia Phillies for Curt Schilling, but his taciturn demeanor angered fans during his tenure with the Phillies. With the 2001 Phillies, he hit .258/.341/.434 with 75 runs, 34 doubles, 20 homers, 90 RBI and 71 walks. He slipped to .265/.331/.394 (98 OPS+) and 14 home runs in 2002.

More trouble[edit]

Failing to display his expected hitting prowess, he spent three full seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003, 2005 and 2006. His first season in Tampa was his best, as he hit .275/.348/.459 with 19 home runs and a 111 OPS+ - decent numbers, but still lacking for a position for which solid hitters are always available. He was, however, an outstanding fielder, and in 2004, the New York Yankees signed him to replace Nick Johnson, who had just been traded to the Montreal Expos. The Yankees were looking for a solid fielder to complement Jason Giambi and were prepared to live with Lee's marginal bat, but he injured himself early in the season and only played seven games. Finding the demand for his services seriously curtailed, he returned to Tampa, but was out of a job after his batting average fell to .224 in 2006.

End of the line[edit]

On March 26, 2007 it was reported that he requested an unconditional release from the Washington Nationals by telling general manager Jim Bowden that he no longer had the passion to play the game. He had been with the team in spring training, looking to replace the injured Nick Johnson, but had lost the battle for the first base job to Dmitri Young.

Lee hit .256/.337/.408 for a 94 OPS+ in the major leagues. He hit 115 home runs, drew 457 walks, scored 476, drove in 488 and stole 59 bases in 79 tries in 1,099 games. He was, to date, the only man to connect for a home run on his first and last Opening Day in the bigs (1998 with Arizona and 2006 with Tampa Bay).

Family ties[edit]

He is the brother of minor league infielder Taber Lee.

Notable Achievemements[edit]

  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 2 (1998 & 2001)

Records Held[edit]

  • Fielding percentage, first baseman, career, .997

Sources: 2007 Nationals Media Guide, assorted Baseball Almanacs, IBAF site

Related Sites[edit]