Travis Bazzana could be first Australian to be drafted No. 1 overall

August 7th, 2023
Design by Dan Phillips. Photos courtesy Cape Cod Baseball League.

Travis Bazzana was just 3 years old when he started swinging a bat. Of course, being a preternaturally gifted youth, he didn't stop at tee-ball, but did almost everything else, too, including cricket, track and field, basketball, soccer and rugby over the years. It's something that the Oregon State second baseman -- whose .376 average, 11 home runs and school record-setting 36 steals this past season have him rocketing up Draft charts for next summer -- thinks was important in his development as an athlete.

"I always took a lot of extra reps hitting in baseball, but playing cricket from a really young age to 16 years old, it's just more bat-to-ball work. I think that had a true impact on what I can do now on the field," Bazzana told me recently at the Cape Cod League All-Star Game, where he was suiting up for the Falmouth Commodores. Over this past weekend, Bazzana also added to his trophy collection, picking up the Cape Cod League MVP Award, too.

"But as a whole, I was always playing sports. Whether it was a baseball, rugby, soccer, cricket, that's what I was doing on a daily basis. Constantly being an athlete helped launch me to this point."

While Bazzana had the talent to play anything and everything, it was baseball that ignited his passion -- something that Baseball Australia CEO Glenn Williams is certainly thankful for. Williams, who had a 14-year professional baseball career culminating with a stint in the Majors for the Minnesota Twins in 2005, actually remembers first meeting Bazzana when he was just a young tyke. Bazzana's older brother was attending a coaching clinic that Williams had led, and Travis was there -- at just 3 1/2 years old -- paying close attention.

Amazingly, there's even a photo of that moment preserved by Bazzana's dad:

Glenn Williams, center in the Twins jersey, takes a photo during a coaching clinic. Travis Bazzana, front right, leans over the table. Photo courtesy Gary Bazzana.

While that was the first time the two met, Williams would get to know the youngster much better a few years later when Bazzana came to the big league veteran for help in the batting cage. Forget just working on his swing: Though Bazzana solely bats left-handed now, at the time he was looking to become a switch-hitter.

"We had a couple of hitting lessons as part of that, and the one thing that stood out was that he was obsessed with baseball. He really loved it, 100% all in on it and was super dedicated to it from a young age," Williams said.

Williams got the chance to watch Bazzana's development up close, too. Bazzana made his debut in the Australian Baseball League for the Sydney Blue Sox at the age of 15 -- the youngest player in the league that year. Though he made it into just one game, the season provided invaluable experience as the teenager had to play with men 10-to-15 years older than him.

"The opportunity to work out and train with guys who have been through a college program, been drafted -- you know, American guys or whatever that are currently playing pro ball -- I see it as invaluable," Williams said. "You're just getting those insights into how they prepare, what it's like to be able to do it, how they're coping with being away from home and playing baseball because that's a big challenge for people when they leave Australia."

Bazzana echoes that.

"I think it helped me grow up really quickly," Bazzana said. "Being around ABL guys when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. You have to step up and can't be a kid anymore. And I think that helped me a lot."

Bazzana, right, with the Sydney Blue Sox. Photo courtesy the ABL.

Of course, to hear Williams tell it, Bazzana never needed much growing up on the ballfield. A quintessential baseball rat, Bazzana had a "thirst for knowledge" and he was always thinking about the game and analyzing what he needed to do to reach the next level. He would look at his metrics, including sprint speed and exit velocity off the bat, and build his game from there.

"He was very interested in what he had to do to be able to get better," Williams said. "The proof's in the pudding, you know, seeing him in different intervals and seeing the improvement that he's had."

It's that kind of baseball obsession that talent evaluators see out on the field, too. Two scouts told that Bazzana plays with an edge and is the "complete package." Along with solid defense at second base and in the outfield, Bazzana has good contact skills and developing power -- he led the Cape Cod Baseball League in average and was second in home runs this summer -- with one scout even going so far as to say he's "going to be a superstar." It has Bazzana among a handful of names in the running to go first overall in the MLB Draft next summer.

Travis Bazzana takes the field. Photo courtesy the Cape Cod Baseball League.

That would be the latest in a series of big moments for Australian baseball, which has never had a player drafted in the first round. Australian-born players aren't eligible for the MLB Draft, unless they've moved to the United States, Canada or a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico. Former big leaguer Josh Spence, who was born in Grovedale, Australia, played collegiately for Arizona State and was drafted in the third round in 2009 before returning to ASU and signing with the Padres after being selected in the ninth round the following year. His younger brother, Liam, was drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round in 2021 out of the University of Tennessee. Clayton Tanner was a third-round pick by the Giants in 2006 out of De La Salle High School in Concord, California. But none of those players created nearly the buzz that Bazzana has and will ahead of the 2024 Draft.

Williams was perhaps the most highly touted Australian prospect ever, signing for $925,000 with the Braves in 1993. That type of bonus was nearly unheard of then, for anyone, much less a player from Australia. At that time, Criag Shipley had only recently -- in 1986 -- become the first Australian-born player to reach the big leagues in over 100 years, and Dave Nilsson had become the third ever in 1992. To put Williams' bonus in perspective, Alex Rodriguez got a $1 million signing bonus as the No. 1 overall Draft pick that same year.

The country had its best-ever performance in the World Baseball Classic this spring, and Rays top prospect and Adelaide native Curtis Mead was called up by the Rays on Friday. It has Bazzana dreaming of a bright future of Australian baseball.

"I've represented my country in juniors a couple of times and it's been great," Bazzana said. "And then just seeing the World Baseball Classic and the level of competition and playing in the Tokyo Dome, and things of that sort, it's been a dream of mine. I really want to bring Australian baseball to the map again and I think the World Baseball Classic is a great opportunity for that."

That's not just talk, either: When he represented Australia for the U-18 World Cup in 2019, he made a note in his phone with what the projected roster for Team Australia would look like before the 2026 World Baseball Classic. He put himself at second base and in the leadoff spot of the batting order. It's given him a goal to aim for as he looks to both showcase both himself and Australian baseball on a global stage.

It means a lot to Williams, who not only oversees Baseball Australia but played for the team as well, to hear players like Bazzana talk about how important it is to represent their country.

"Look, it's guys like a Travis or Curtis Mead who are plying their trade in professional baseball or at the upper echelon of their game that are going to help take our team to the next level," Williams said. "We're excited about that. We view what they're doing as critically important to us as a team, but we're also trying to create that atmosphere where everyone's all-in when they play for Team Australia. That's one thing that really resonated from the WBC. And it's great to hear that there are others like Travis who are really keen to be part of that and know that they've got to earn their spot."

A young Travis Bazzana swings for the fences. Photo courtesy Gary Bazzana.

While the Draft is ahead and there are World Baseball Classic roster spots to fight for, Bazzana's not looking past his junior season in Corvallis. After Oregon State lost to eventual Men's College World Series champions LSU in the regional last year, Bazzana doesn't want to finish his college career without taking home some serious hardware.

"First and foremost, I want to win a national championship," Bazzana said. "I think we're going to have a really strong squad at Oregon State. We always put up a lot of wins and get a chance in the playoffs. I think playing a leadership role and bringing together a good group of guys to make a run in Omaha is something that we hold ourselves to and are excited about. So hopefully, if I do that, I think the other things will fall into place."