TRAVIS ISHIKAWA, FIRST BASEMAN
|Born: September 24, 1983
Drafted: 21st Round, 637th Overall, 2002 (Giants)
How Acquired: Waiver claim
High School: Federal Way (WA) HS
Agent: Jim McDowell
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|The Giants drafted Ishikawa out of high school. He was well regarded, but fell to the 21st round due to his bonus demands. The Giants nevertheless signed him to an above-slot deal and he appeared among their top 20 prospects six times over the next seven years. Ishikawa’s hitting profile is one that hasn’t generally been successful at the major league level. He was noted for being a very patient hitter in the minors, drawing a lot of walks but getting deep into counts, resulting in high strikeout rates. He hit for power only for a couple years in the minors and has not done so during his major league opportunities. At the major league level he’s struggled with LHPs, posting only a .603 OPS against them, compared to .737 against RHPs. He was strictly a first baseman for most of his career. He’s very good there defensively, serving at times as a defensive substitute. He ended up playing the outfield for the Giants in 2014, including the post-season, due to injuries and was a surprise post-season hero.
Ishikawa will be on his second stint with the Pirates. They signed him to a minor league contract for 2014 and he made the team, but they designated him for assignment a few weeks into the season after acquiring Ike Davis. The Giants signed him after he became a free agent. The Pirates reacquired him in July 2015 through a waiver claim.
Ishikawa had a solid debut across two short season levels. His walk and K rates were just borderline, but he got on base and hit for some gap power.
The Giants moved Ishikawa up to short season ball and he struggled, striking out in more than a third of his ABs. Once the short season leagues opened play, the Giants sent him there and he hit better, although still with a high K rate. He drew lots of walks at both levels. Despite his struggles, Baseball America still ranked him 7th in a weak Giants’ system. In his favor, he played the season at age 19.
Ishikawa returned to low A and started hitting for power. He probably was hampered a little by his home park in Hagerstown, which is a tough park for power hitters. He continued to walk and strike out a lot. The Giants gave him a late-season promotion to high A.
Ishikawa stayed in high A all year and had a breakout season, at least on its face. Mitigating it some is the fact that it came in the hitting-crazy California League, although his home park of San Jose actually suppressed HRs a lot relative to the league. BA rated him the Giants’ #4 prospect after the season and the Giants also added him to their 40-man roster.
Ishikawa opened the season with the Giants due to the temporary absence of their regular first baseman, Lance Niekro. He did well in his brief debut, but went to AA and struggled. The Giants did not call him back up in September.
Back in AA, Ishikawa struggled so badly that the Giants sent him back down to high A, where he hit much better. Even in the California League, though, his plate discipline regressed badly. He also was hampered by nagging injuries, including a knee problem.
The Giants sent Ishikawa back to AA for the first half of the season and he hit well without dominating. His walk rate did return to his former high level and he cut down significantly on the whiffs. He put up huge numbers after a mid-season promotion to AAA, although the friendly confines in the Pacific Coast League probably helped. The Giants called him up in mid-August and played him most of the time at first for the rest of the season. He hit well for them.
Ishikawa spent much of the year as the Giants’ first baseman, but didn’t hit enough for the position. The Giants eventually tried to replace him with Ryan Garko, but that move didn’t work out.
The Giants signed Aubrey Huff to play first, so Ishikawa, who was out of options by this time, spent the season as a backup, pinch hitter and defensive replacement. He hit about the same as the previous year, although he cut down on his strikeouts.
The Giants designated Ishikawa for assignment at end of spring training to make room for Brandon Belt. He was outrighted to AAA, but injured his shoulder diving for a ball early in the year and had surgery during the summer, ending his season. After the season, he became a free agent and signed a minor league deal with the Brewers.
Ishikawa made the Brewers as a backup out of spring training. He took over part of the starting first base job at the beginning of May when Mat Gamel got hurt, but suffered a strained rib cage himself in late May. Once he returned, Corey Hart had taken over the starting job. He hit reasonably well on the year, but much of that was the hitter’s environs at Miller Park; Ishikawa posted an OPS of .826 at home and .675 on the road. The Brewers removed him from their 40-man roster after the season and he signed a minor league deal with the Orioles.
Ishikawa hit very well in AAA for the Orioles and they called him up in June. He didn’t do much in limited appearances off the bench and Baltimore designated him for assignment less than two weeks later. The Yankees claimed him off waivers, gave him two ABs, then waived him again four days later. Ishikawa opted for free agency when he cleared waivers and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. He spent the rest of the year with their AAA affiliate.
With the Pirates having been unable to find a left-handed hitting first baseman during the off-season, Ishikawa came into spring training with a chance to compete with Andrew Lambo for the job. Ishikawa didn’t do anything special during spring training — in fact, he missed the first ten days or so with a minor injury — but Lambo struggled badly and Ishikawa ended up with the job, which obviously got him added to the 40-man roster. Ishikawa opened the season in a platoon role with Gaby Sanchez, which meant he played most of the time, but he didn’t do much and Sanchez ended up playing every day. About three weeks into the season the Pirates finally made their long-rumored acquisition of Ike Davis, with the result that Ishikawa was designated for assignment. Ishikawa cleared waivers, elected free agency and signed a minor league deal with the Giants. They called him up at the end of July and he saw time at first and a little in the outfield. He ended up playing in the outfield during the post-season because of injuries. He became a hero when he was their best hitter in the NLCS against St. Louis, driving in a third of their runs and hitting a walkoff HR in the decisive game five.
Ishikawa opened the season on the disabled list with a lower back strain. He got into some games in mid-April on a rehab assignment, but missed a little more time before the Giants finally outrighted him to AAA in late May. They called him up in late June when Nori Aoki got hurt, but he saw only very limited action. They designated him for assignment in a series of transactions on July 3 and the Pirates claimed him on July 5. The Pirates had been struggling with their bench, with Corey Hart completely unproductive and Sean Rodriguez replacing Pedro Alvarez at first against LHPs and for defense. Ishikawa did a lot of pinch hitting and got a few starts through mid-August, when he went on the disabled list with a lower back strain. He returned in September, but with Travis Snider and Jaff Decker also available as left-handed bats, Ishikawa got only five more plate appearances. He had one big game for the Pirates, hitting two doubles and a HR (three of his four XBHs with the Pirates) in a July win over Kansas City. Otherwise, he did little beyond drawing a few walks. The Pirates didn’t even trust him as a defensive replacement, preferring Rodriguez.
Ishikawa remains on the 40-man roster, but he’ll almost certainly be removed from it after the season.
|Signing Bonus: $950,000
MiLB Debut: 2002
MLB Debut: 4/18/2006
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2017
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: November 17, 2005
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2006, 2007, 2008)
MLB Service Time: 4.012
|June 5, 2002: Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 21st round, 637th overall pick; signed on July 11.
November 17, 2005: Contract purchased by the San Francisco Giants.
March 31, 2011: Designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants; outrighted to AAA on April 6.
November 2, 2011: Became a free agent.
December 12, 2011: Signed as a minor league free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers.
April 4, 2012: Called up by the Milwaukee Brewers.
November 2, 2012: Outrighted to AAA by the Milwaukee Brewers; became a free agent on November 3.
December 19, 2012: Signed as a minor league free agent with the Baltimore Orioles.
June 18, 2013: Called up by the Baltimore Orioles.
June 29, 2013: Designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles.
July 7, 2013: Claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees.
July 11, 2013: Designated for assignment by the New York Yankees; elected free agency on July 13.
July 19, 2013: Signed as a minor league free agent with the Chicago White Sox.
November 5, 2013: Became a free agent.
December 18, 2013: Signed as a minor league free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
March 29, 2014: Called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
April 19, 2014: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates; elected free agency on April 23.
April 25, 2014: Signed as a minor league free agent with the San Francisco Giants.
July 29, 2014: Called up by the San Francisco Giants.
May 25, 2015: Designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants; outrighted to AAA on May 31.
June 24, 2015: Called up by the San Francisco Giants.
July 3, 2015: Designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants.
July 5, 2015: Claimed off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates.