The Boston Red Sox continue to climb the standings ladder, sitting just five games back of the American League East division lead. Winners of their last four games, the Red Sox have seen the other four teams steadily decline in their winning ways, with only the New York Yankees posting a .500 record in 10 games. One bright spark that has helped Boston find options to fix what wasn’t working in the early part of the season has been Travis Shaw.
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Let’s settle something before we continue: nobody is saying that Shaw’s lighting up MLB pitching and is some dominance force that cannot be held back. However, his value to the Red Sox has greatly increased by his skills and the deteriorating skills of some veteran players.
Zack Cox of NESN highlights this point with first baseman “Mike Napoli’s ongoing struggles [opening] up a spot in the lineup for first baseman Travis Shaw, whom the team recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Pawtucket.” In the game that night, Shaw hit 3-for-4 with a run scored against the Miami Marlins.
“‘Good swings,’ manager John Farrell said after the game. ‘Even before he gets his first big league hit here (Tuesday night), when he was with us previously, he took some good swings on some pitches. You get a chance to see a guy over a couple of spring trainings, and you see their confidence, their maturity — his has come a long way in probably the two years that he’s been in big league camp and spring training. But he’s balanced, and he’s staying through the middle of the field very well.'”
Scott Barboza of ESPN mentioned that “Shaw, who possesses the ability to play both corner infield positions, was a repeat draft selection of the Red Sox in 2011 after not signing with the team in 2008. He’s stuck out to manager John Farrell in his development at the plate through the last couple of years working with the big league team in spring training.”
It’s worth noting that last night’s game found Shaw out of the lineup, but was substituted in for David Ortiz in the ninth inning for defensive purposes. Ortiz helped the team secure the victory with his bat while Shaw, not Napoli, was put in to secure the game with his glove. If neither Napoli’s bat or glove are being trusted in important situations, then when will he see the lineup again?
Shaw bats left-handed and throws right-handed, with his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame moving very well in the field. Earlier in the season against Toronto, Shaw replaced Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval, after he had been infamously sat for the Instagram incident. Shaw’s range was apparent, as he moved to cover short-hit balls for outs that we’ve seen Kung Fu Panda dive to grab with, let’s say, unfortunate results. The 25-year-old native of Ohio has a perfect fielding percentage, granted in only a small sample size. He has played first base, third base, and some outfield, all done well.
In the minors, Shaw hit .250 with 5 home runs and 28 RBIs in 66 games with Triple-A Pawtucket. His on-base percentage was .321 and his slugging was .363, this season. He has a fairly good eye for the ball, striking out 45 times to walking 23 times in 248 at-bats, hence the decent OBP. However, he does need to strike the ball better to increase his ability to get on base because of his bat, too.
Which leads us to Brock Holt and how Shaw needs to take a lesson from the newly-selected 2015 All-Star.
Alex Speier of The Boston Globe examined Holt’s amazing, and unusual path, to stardom: “[Holt’s] delivered standout top-of-the-order performance (.295 average, a .383 OBP that’s seventh in the AL) as a super superutility player who can now claim a wildly unexpected title of an All-Star, validating the faith that the Sox showed in him even as Holt blew past even their most optimistic projections.”
Holt was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth round in 2009, and made his MLB debut in September of 2012. He was not expected to be much value for the Pirates, and was subsequently traded as part of a package with Joel Hanrahan for four Red Sox players. Holt was simply a question of asset balance in the deal coming back to Boston, as is evident in the $530.5 thousand that he’s currently making. Holt is signed through till arbitration in 2017 and free agency in 2020.
Holt has played every position other than pitcher or catcher, with a good fielding percentage at all of them. He has made four errors in 198.2 innings. Having that spark coming off of the bench has propelled the Red Sox back into the division race and himself into the All-Star Game, declaring him the best player in the league who is not an every-day starter.
Holt’s value is so important to the Red Sox that they can’t afford to let him go. If Shaw wants to stay with the big club, he will have to show that same tenacity as Holt, to be an important cog in the Red Sox machine. The great thing of having these players on the team is that they can fill-in, if not start, for veterans who are injured or struggling. As Holt has done for the injured Pedroia, Shaw has done for the poor-playing Napoli.
The question then becomes whether Shaw is needed when Pedroia gets back, making Holt the 10th man again. Then again, with the young talent like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and even Brock Holt doing so well, should there not be a youth movement everywhere? With the veterans like Napoli, Sandoval, and Shane Victorino not performing as well as in the past, is it not time for players like Shaw to prove their worth to the Red Sox? The money already spent says no, but the money that the team would get with potential championships says maybe, at least.
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