May 30, 2014 at 2:46 PM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Travis Shaw had a breakout campaign of sorts in 2012 when he hit .287/.397/.517 and 19 home runs, spending most of the year with High A Salem. However, 2013 was a step backwards, as he scuffled while adjusting to Double-A.
But looking back now after righting the ship in 2014 season and fresh off of a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, Shaw says that his 2013 struggles were not the result of being in over his head against Double-A pitching. Instead, he feels that upon initial struggles adjusting to the level, he abandoned the approach at the plate that had proved itself to work earlier in his career.
“My mindset [is the main difference]. As I go up to the plate, I try to stay through the middle as much as I can,” Shaw said following Thursday night’s game. “Last year, I got completely away from that. I basically bagged that approach from about June-on and wasn’t able to get back to it. Then this offseason I was able to get back to it and I’ve carried it over into this year so far. And that’s what I’m going to try to do here: Just stick to my approach every single day, and hopefully the results will speak for themselves.”
So far the results have spoken loudly. The organization promoted Shaw on May 26 after he hit .305/.406/.548 in 208 plate appearances to start the season. This improvement goes back to this last offseason though, when he got a chance to play against some of the best prospects in baseball in the Arizona Fall League and hit .361/.452/.705.
“Right before I went to Arizona, I basically started over, pushed the reset button,” the 24-year-old infielder said. “I got back to the fundamentals and what I’m good at as a hitter, and so far I’ve been able to carry that over into 2014.”
Perhaps most impressive from his time spent in the AFL was being amoung those on the TrackMan leaderboard, a 3-D radar tracking systems that quantifies several measurements. Of those plate appearances tracked, he recorded the second-highest exit velocity off the bat, fourth-highest batted ball distance, and was the only other player besides Cubs super-prospect Kris Bryant to appear twice in the top ten of power contact, a stat that measures velocity off the bat for balls hit at a launch angle of 25-35 degrees.
Shaw has been able to show that power potential more this year, hitting 11 homers in 47 games in Portland. Compare that to the 16 the left-handed hitter hit in nearly two-and-a-half times the plate appearances the season before, and it’s clear that the improvements have also allowed him to find his power stroke this season.
“The power numbers have honestly surprised me a little bit,” he said. “This many home runs this early has never happened for me, but I’m not trying to hit home runs, I’m trying to be gap-to-gap as much as I can. I’ve been able to hit the ball with a lot more authority this year to left, which I was not able to do last year. So far the approach has paid dividends.”
Ryan Lavarnway’s promotion to Boston this week opened the roster spot in Pawtucket for Shaw to be the everyday first baseman there. Some believed he may break camp with the PawSox after spending all of last season in Portland, but with a squeeze at first base and DH, it didn’t work out. PawSox Manager Kevin Boles is glad to have him in the lineup now though.
“[Shaw’s an] impact bat from the left side. He works the count, has strength to all fields, and he manages at-bats,” said Boles. “[He] plays a quality first base. His footwork around the bag is pretty sound. He has soft hands, arm strength. He’s definitely made an impression in Portland and major league camp, and we’re excited to have him here.”
Shaw spoke on some of the major differences he has seen in the pitching so far at Triple-A: “The quality of strikes and just the amount of pitches around the zone [are increased]. It seems like everything is strike one, strike two for the most part. I feel like I’m probably going to have to be a little more aggressive, but that’s something I’ve done earlier this year at Double-A too, is be a little more aggressive. I was a passive hitter, but the aggression here will benefit me in the long run because it seems like most of the pitchers here are around the zone with their pitches and they try to get ahead early in counts.”
This played out in his at-bats Thursday night, as he took called strikes looking to start his third and fourth at-bats of the night. Though he worked the counts and saw a lot of pitches in all four plate appearances, including a six-pitch walk, it seemed like he often had two strikes against him before he really began to battle.
To go along with the walk, he did strike out once on the evening. Strikeouts have been a bit of a weakness in his early minor league career, but so far this year, he has more walks than punchouts, a stat in which he took pride.
“Yes, I wanted to cut down on my strikeouts this year,” Shaw said. “I’ve had high strikeout totals pretty much my whole career. That was something I was focused on myself to try to cut those down, put more balls in play, be a little bit more aggressive early in the counts, and I’ve been able to do that so far.”
On defense, Shaw saw a significant amount of time at both third base and first base when he was first drafted. But as he has moved up the ladder, the scale has tipped mainly towards first base (270 games there, 39 this season, compared to 55 at third base, 6 this season). Though he projects to be a first baseman long-term based on that playing time and scouting reports, it will be interesting to see if he continues to see playing time at third. Scouts’ takes have been that he fields the position decently, but despite a strong arm, his range and actions at third do not suggest he could play the position in the majors in anything more than a pinch.
Still, such versatility could potentially enhance his value off the bench or his trade value. Boles said that Shaw may possibly see time at third with the PawSox, but the presence of Garin Cecchini may also limit his opportunities to do so.
Just one step away from Boston, it can be hard to ignore major league news. In fact, Shaw’s name started to pop up Thursday evening on Twitter when Lavarnway left Boston’s game with an injury. For his part though, Shaw is just trying to tune it all out.
“I just gotta go play every day, stick to my approach, stick to my routine every day,” he said. “I try not to look at that as much as I can because it’s out of my control. I just gotta do what I do and then take advantage of the opportunity when it comes.”
Photo credit: Travis Shaw by Kelly O'Connor of sittingstill.smugmug.com
Matt Huegel is Managing Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.