When the Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series, most of the baseball world was in disbelief—the team with the worst record in Major League Baseball just four years earlier had transformed into a star-studded slugging, pitching juggernaut.
For Travis Coleman ’07, a regional scouting supervisor for the Astros, this was to be expected, the culmination of a plan initiated years earlier.
“Achieving what we did this year was not a shock to anybody in our organization,” says Coleman. “That we are in a position to chase that ring for a number of years is intentional. The creative genius of General Manager Jeff Luhnow, Assistant GM Mike Elias and all our scouts is the reason you see what we’re doing.”
‘There’s just so much more than meets the eye.’ The same could be said for Coleman himself, one of the most respected talent scouts in baseball and a former four-time letterman at Auburn who played against several future MLB hall-of-famers. In 2005, Coleman’s sophomore year, he and the Tigers traveled to Florida State for the NCAA Regional Finals to face future Major League MVP Buster Posey.
“There was literally 10-15 major leaguers in one regional. We weren’t able to pull it out, but just us being down there, with that ‘us against the world’ mentality, that was one of the highlights of my career there.”
Inspired by his mother, Wanda Gasper, to always lead by example, he says it’s “a blessing to be a blessing” to others. Coleman was the runner-up for the athletic department’s leadership award in his junior and senior years. He was voted captain of the 2007 team and served as treasurer on the Student Athlete Executive Committee.
Earning a paralegal certification during his senior year meant 30 credit hours a week, but Coleman’s enthusiasm led to work at Atlanta-based Finley Firm, P.C. under fellow Auburn alumni Ben Finley ’88. But Coleman missed baseball.
“Ben and I talked about it, and I realized that that wasn’t the path for me; that wasn’t my purpose. I had gotten saved the year before that, and I took a purpose-driven mindset to what I needed to do.”
While in Atlanta, Coleman worked with East Cobb Baseball and was introduced to the sport’s private sector by friend and mentor C.J. Stewart. Teaching baseball, instructing players, developing talent—Coleman was surprised to find how much he enjoyed it.
“Then, when I thought about it, I’ve been a coach my whole life,” said Coleman. “My father, Terry Coleman, was the first one to scout me; I enjoyed working with my teammates, I enjoyed talking to [Auburn teammates] Tyler Johnstone and Bruce Edwards and Josh Donaldson and Mike Bianucci about their swings and what I saw during the game. I enjoyed that more than my own game!”
His path now found, Coleman spent years in the travel circuit learning the nuances of scouting, amassing a rolodex of promising talent and earning the attention of Matthew Paul, a regional scout for the L.A. Dodgers.
Currently partners at The Prospect Lab (TPL), a Birmingham development academy, Paul hired Coleman as his assistant scout, where they were able to recruit a number of Coleman’s top players. One of Coleman’s crowning achievements was drafting Deion Ulmer after coaching him since he was 16.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” he says.
For Coleman, scouting players is more than just looking for talent. There needs to be skill and athleticism, but also a drive to compete and ownership of their game. With so much talent trying to break into the minor leagues and beyond, if you’re not obsessed with constantly improving, it’s just not going to work out.
“I have to be able to trust them, because at the end of the day, I’ve grown to have such a great relationship with coaches and scouts that I’m going to tell them the truth about guys. That’s part of being a scout, finding what he’s about and how he can make us a champion. My word means a lot to me, and to the programs that might benefit from these players, so I have to know the guy.”
Coleman attributes the success of the Astros, whom he joined in 2016, to not just talent, but their development as well.
“Back when the Astros had the worst record in baseball, the farm system was No. 1. The guys who are winning right now for us—Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman, José Altuve—those guys were just coming up.”
Scouting MLB veterans as well, Coleman and co. signed Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Justin Verlander to sharpen their talented core and propel the team to its first World Series title, a feeling he describes as “pure euphoria on earth.” Then, only a few days later, as the team paraded through the streets of Houston, Coleman was already back on the road, ready to make the best team in baseball even better.
“When you become a champion,” he preaches to his recruits, “excellence is not a goal, but a habit.”