May 30, 2012 at 2:17 PM
|Travis Shaw (Dave Letizi)|
Before Saturday night’s showdown with the Frederick Keys, who sent Orioles—and perhaps all of baseball’s—top prospect Dylan Bundy to the mound for his Carolina League debut, Travis Shaw and his Salem teammates were buzzing about the opportunity to face a pitcher who arrived in the league with such fanfare.
Bundy had gone 30 innings without allowing an earned run, and had given up just five hits in eight starts. But with Ryan Kalish on first base in the fourth inning, Shaw stepped into the batter’s box and changed all of that.
“After the 1-0 pitch, I thought I saw something he did differently, so I took it, and it was a changeup,” Shaw said the following day. “I noticed something again on the 1-1 pitch, and I was thinking to myself that he might try to get one by me here on the inside part of the plate. Luckily, that was the pitch he threw. I think he missed it a little bit because it was down, and that’s in my happy zone.”
Bundy said the fastball caught too much of the plate, and Shaw made no mistake with it, depositing the knee-high heater over the wall in right field for a no-doubt home run that gave Salem a 2-1 lead at the time.
But while satisfying, it was a lesson from Shaw’s time in Lowell last season that will prevent that one plate appearance—or any one plate appearance—from pulling him off course with his approach.
While Bundy and the rest of the big-bonus stars of the 2011 MLB Draft class were waiting for the August 15 signing deadline to hear from their respective teams, Shaw had already collected a $110,000 signing bonus and began play with the Short-Season A Lowell Spinners.
He got off to a hot start in the New York-Penn League, but injuries and slumps dragged his average down to .262 by the end of the season.
“I learned not really to get too high, not get too low,” Shaw said of his debut campaign. “During the lows, it might be frustrating but you can’t change what you’ve been doing, because obviously its been working. Last year, I maybe changed my approach a little bit when I started to struggle.”
Rich Gedman, who was Shaw’s hitting coach in Lowell and is serving in that capacity with Salem this season, said Shaw “keeps things in perspective and comes to work every day.
“It’s not about max effort, it’s not about results,” Gedman said. “It’s about process. It’s about taking care of his swing, understanding his swing and what’s going to give him the best chance when he’s at the plate.”
Gedman said Shaw’s ability to keep each at bat in perspective and understand why it ended how it did has been the key to his success so far. Through 42 games (157 AB), Shaw is hitting .331/.403/.503 with 15 doubles and a pair of homers.
Coyle refining approach through struggles
With an .826 OPS and power numbers that didn’t line up with his .247 batting average, Sean Coyle’s 2011 season with Greenville was something of a statistical anomaly. He won’t draw a parallel between this year and last—Coyle has a team-leading five home runs, but is hitting just .220 through 44 games—but the 20-year-old second baseman said he’s being challenged to be more of a hitter and less of a hard swinger in the Carolina League.
“I think that means being able to take a pitch off the outer part of the plate and being able to put it into right field, and being able to make decent contact with two strikes,” Coyle said. “Maybe cut down a swing or really try to balance my game at the plate rather than sell out for an extra base hit or swing out of my approach and over-swing.”
Those adjustments, combined with pitchers’ ability to locate off-speed pitches for strikes at the higher level, have led to a bit of frustration for Coyle, whose trademark last year was his hard contact. But Gedman said that “it’s just a matter of time before it clicks” for Coyle.
“He can do some things that a lot of people can’t,” Gedman said. “Just stick with it, stick with the process, and you’re going to work your way through it. Before this is over, you’re going to look back and go regardless of the numbers, I’ve gotten so much better at this game having been here and gone through what I’ve gone through.
Couch embracing hybrid role
Since Matt Barnes’ quick promotion from Greenville, all involved have been waiting for the Salem rotation to sort itself out. Now that it has, Keith Couch—who won’t be starting for the time being—has chosen to embrace whatever role he’s given.
“At first, I was kind of bummed about it,” Couch said. But the right-hander out of Adelphi said he discussed it with his parents and that they told him he could either sulk, get lit up, and create actual problems, or continue to pitch and prove that he belongs back in the rotation. With a handful of double headers coming, Couch will pitch in relief and spot start for the club.
“There are two sides to everything, so I took the positive side,” he said. “It’s not like I’m getting demoted, going to Greenville. I’m still getting innings in, I’m still pitching, and I have to make sure I’m having success.
So far, half of Couch’s 10 appearances on the year have been in relief, and all but three of the 18 earned runs he has allowed came in his five starts. He is 4-3 with a 3.52 ERA, 43 strikeouts, and just 9 walks in 46 innings.
Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.