GSA Spotlight: Oregon State's Travis Bazzana

ARLINGTON, Texas — Conventional wisdom suggests the best way to attack an elite lefthanded hitter is with lefthanded pitching — that’s a tried and true approach dating back more than a century. And that approach worked OK for Arkansas against Oregon State’s Travis Bazzana last Friday night, because Arkansas happened to have a truly elite lefthanded pitcher having a legendary night, as Hagen Smith racked up 17 strikeouts in six innings. Three of those strikeouts came at Bazzana’s expense, all on nasty sliders.

But don’t let Smith’s brilliance fool you; conventional wisdom will let you down against Bazzana, because he is anything but conventional. Consider Sunday’s performance against Oklahoma State: after Bazzana crushed a 94 mph fastball from righthander Janzen Keisel for a soaring 430-foot home run to right field, the Cowboys summoned lefties out of the bullpen to face Bazzana in each of his next two at-bats. In the sixth, Bazzana pounded a 91 mph heater from lefty Brennan Phillips for a screaming line drive that exited the bat at 111 mph and stayed just high enough to clear the right-field fence for another homer. Then, in the eighth, Bazzana turned on an 88 mph cutter from lefty Drew Blake for a rocket double to right field, exiting the bat at 109 mph.

It turns out, the dreaded left-on-left matchup is not so dreaded by Bazzana, who can stake a strong claim to the title of best hitter in all of college baseball.

“I think my splits, if I’m right, since I’ve been in the U.S. across the summer leagues and in the spring my freshman and sophomore year, my splits are better against lefties, I’m pretty sure,” Bazzana said.

So I looked it up, and of course he is spot-on. In his Oregon State career, Bazzana has a career line of .338/.462/.574 (1.036 OPS) with 15 homers in 460 plate appearances against righthanded pitching, according to Synergy data. Against lefties, he’s hitting .387/.491/.627 (1.118 OPS), with seven homers in just 172 plate appearances.

So what makes Bazzana so good against lefties, flying in the face of conventional wisdom?

“I think most of it comes down to a lot of lefties are kind of two-pitch guys, and I can simplify a little bit. I almost pick one side of the plate and just try to get my pitch and damage it,” Bazzana said. “I don’t want to go too deep into it because then they might listen and get my approach figured out, but I’m able to simplify, and also that angle coming in helps me to get the head out a little bit, so I slug a little more to the pull side, compared to the angle of a righty. So I think that’s one part of it.”

That’s an uncommonly thoughtful and insightful answer to a question that would prompt a shrug and a platitude from the vast majority of college baseball players. But again, Travis Bazzana is anything but common.

You can call him the Wonder from Down Under, or you can call him the Bazzmanian Devil — either moniker alludes to his unique background, which helped shape him into the person and player that he is today. You might not expect a player who grew up in Australia facing lesser competition and getting far fewer at-bats than most high-level American prep prospects to show up at a major Division I program and be ready to rake from the get-go, but that’s just what Bazzana did as a freshman, when he hit .305/.423/.476 with 16 doubles, six homers and 44 RBIs as Oregon State’s everyday second baseman. He has continued to get better and better since then, hitting .374/.500/.622 with 20 doubles, 11 homers, 55 RBIs and 36 stolen bases in 39 tries as a sophomore, then racing out to a .438/.526/1.031 start to his junior year this spring, with five home runs already in just eight games.

I asked if his early-season power surge was a natural result of the typical strength gains that almost every player makes over his first three years in college, as his body matures and he devotes more time to the weight room. But again, Bazzana’s answer was surprising. He is anything but typical.

“Honestly, I’ve progressed strength-and-athleticism-wise a little bit, but I came into school fairly heavy, fairly strong, and I was fast. So It’s been a little progression, but I don’t think it’s really a credit for that,” he said. “I think I always came in with awareness for the barrel — when I got to the U.S., I had that barrel awareness. I squared it up. But I’ve just learned how to bring my point of contact a little further out and also just backspin balls. So yes, I have more speed, more power, but I think it’s just ball flight, and being able to hold my posture through the inside pitch, and that’ll create that backspin. So it’s a combination of things, but I’ve been working to be able to slug more.”

Of course Bazzana’s feel for the barrel is special, anyone can see that. But his answer begs the question: How did a kid from Australia develop such barrel awareness before he ever even got to the United States to begin his college career? It’s not like he had a chance to hone his craft against the top arms on the U.S. showcase circuit.

“It’s interesting because realistically growing up, I probably had an average of like 100 at-bats per year, maybe 150. Kids here are having 80 games a year, 500 at-bats,” Bazzana said. “So I think the thing I put it down to is, I always wanted extra swings from like 3 years old. I was in the back yard with my mom playing cricket, hitting T-ball with my dad when he got home from work in the back yard, tennis balls — whatever. So I was constantly bat-to-ball, bat-to-ball, whether it was baseball or cricket. And once I grew older, my training environments in Australia were challenging. I got better not playing games but actually training, and I wasn’t just facing 50 mile-an-hour BP — we would ramp the machine up, I would hit inside pitches, outside pitches. There was just good intention, and the goal was just to be in the zone a long time, and I was constantly searching for ways to be better and square the ball up more often. I think I just challenged myself, and then you adjust to those challenges and make improvements. I’ve continued to do that, and it’s paying off.”

Bazzana recalled the moment when he realized all of his training had indeed paid off and turned him into the kind of player who could hold his own against the best players in America.

“I went to the [2019] 18U World Cup in Korea and played against Team USA and Team Japan Team,” Bazzana said. “Japan had Roki Sasaki and some other guys who are in the [Nippon Professional Baseball League] right now. Team USA had Pete Crow Armstrong and Robert Hassell, Drew Romo, Milan Tolentino, Mick Abel — a bunch of guys. Seeing all those guys — this was before I even got recruited to college — seeing all those guys and being like, ‘Wow, these guys are good,’ and I see them on the internet from Australia and I see them on social media. They’re good, but they’re still playing baseball and they’re still human. It really motivated me, like, ‘I’m not that far off.’ And I took a step, and a month after that tournament I got recruited to Oregon State, and kind of flourished from there. But that tournament opened my eyes to like, wow, you’re across the world seeing people on social media, and you think they’re like these crazy stars and super-human, but really they’re just baseball players and kids like you.”

Bazzana said he had some mentors in Australia who knew Rich Dorman, who had just been hired as Oregon State’s pitching coach that summer. So when Bazzana traveled across the Pacific to play in the Arizona Fall Classic in October of 2018, the OSU coaching staff was there to see him play a couple of games, and it didn’t take long for them to decide that Bazzana needed to be a Beaver. They signed him quickly.

“I think everyone did [know how special he would be],” Oregon State coach Mitch Canham said. “Just energy, fitting the mold. I think the big factor for me was meeting him, looking him in the eye and shaking his hand, you felt a different energy from him. The confidence, how eager he was to learn, and how thoughtful he is, paying attention to the little things people say. I’m probably harder on him than anyone else because I know he can take it, and I know how bad he wants to get better every day, so I’m always looking for something to give him, because I know he wants it.”

This winter, Canham told me a story that shed some light into Bazzana’s character. The son of one of Oregon State’s coaches had a big Little League game, and Bazzana wanted to show up to cheer the kid on. But Bazzana does not have a car on this side of the Pacific, so he decided to Uber back and forth to the game, delighting his young friend. It’s obvious that Bazzana values his position as a role model — Canham can’t contain himself from gushing about Bazzana’s character and his positive impact in the community. He was also the last player left on the field signing postgame autographs all weekend at Globe Life Field.

“Truth be told, once I came over here, I’m putting the game in perspective a little bit. I want to be great in this game so bad, and I want to win at Oregon State and beyond so bad, but there’s so much more to it,” Bazzana said. “There are so many people behind this. The staff here at Oregon State and the fans, they’ve done so much for me and changed my life, and I just want to give back. And it’s rewarding to see people like my coaches’ kids looking up to me and then being able to show up to their game, it fires them up and makes someone’s day. So I think it’s more than being a baseball player; you can actually make people’s day. That’s the rewarding part of it. There’s so much, whatever — money, NIL, crazy things going on, but the truth is the most rewarding thing is just being a good person. So I take pride in that, and I get that from my family.”

It’s clear that Bazzana’s family raised him right. He is an incredible ambassador for college baseball, with an innately charismatic, thoughtful, gregarious personality. And before long, he’ll be an incredible ambassador for major league baseball, because he is also a supreme talent with a rare combination of strength, double-plus speed, pure hitting instincts and defensive prowess at second base. The entire package makes him a strong candidate to be drafted No. 1 overall.

And it helps that he responds to baseball adversity about as well as a player can, as evidenced by his rebound this weekend after a tough Friday night.

“He’s extremely confident. As emotional as he can get, he can flush it really fast,” Canham said. “He goes up there with a good approach, and [Oklahoma State has] got really good arms too — up and down, everyone that’s coming in throws firm and has developed really good offspeed stuff too. But that’s a really tough out to get.” is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.