Based on his bat, Giants prospect Chris Shaw had put himself firmly in the conversation for a Major League look by the end of the regular season. Instead, he was tabbed to be an Arizona Fall League left fielder. He’s made peace with that.
“We had a meeting with [general manager]Bobby Evans about where I stood and why I wasn’t getting the call this year,” Shaw said. “When he said the Fall League, I was excited that I’d get to play more and still compete every day, but I knew it was all about playing left field and continuing to get acclimated out there.”
A right fielder at Boston College, he was drafted 31st overall in 2015 and considered to be a plus power hitter with little speed or defensive value. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he moved to first base and surged up the chain on the strength of his bat, including a .292/.346/.525 slash line with a career-high 24 homers in 125 games between Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Sacramento this year.
There was just one problem for the Giants’ No. 2 prospect — a Brandon Belt-sized problem. The veteran first baseman is signed through 2021 after inking a six-year deal in April 2016. So as Shaw got closer to San Francisco, it also meant he got closer to the grass. The Giants had discussions with Shaw about moving to left field back in Spring Training. He made 18 starts there (compared to 18 at first) in Richmond before making the jump to Sacramento — and a full-time outfield role — on May 25.
The 23-year-old’s reeducation has now extended to the Fall League, and it remains an ongoing process as he gets his turns in the Scottsdale lineup.
“It’s allowing the instincts to become natural,” Shaw said. “All of that is the anticipation aspect. I’m obviously not the fastest guy, nor will I ever be, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get good jumps or good reads. That’s started to come more naturally.”
By his own admission, it hasn’t been the easiest transition. The Massachusetts native had spent previous offseasons working hard at first base but had to change tracks after showing up to the Giants’ Scottsdale facility this spring — all while maintaining his reputation as perhaps the best slugger in the system. But there were moments this year when Shaw felt himself becoming comfortable.
“There have been a few times where the ball has gone over my head, I put my head down, sprint to a spot and found the ball again,” he said. “That’s a big part of getting comfortable out there, trusting yourself to know where the ball is. Once that’s happened a few times, I was able to exhale.”
He’ll be aided in the AFL by playing next to Giants No. 7 prospect Steven Duggar (a 65-grade runner) and Yankees No. 3 prospect Estevan Florial (a 60-grade runner) in center field. Working with new outfielders is about communication and knowing who’s best positioned to reach a ball hit their way, but Shaw admitted it doesn’t take long to know that when a speedster is going full-bore, he should “get the hell out of the way.”
On the offensive side, it’s not hard to see how Shaw could represent a significant upgrade at the position for the Giants. San Francisco left fielders ranked 28th in the Majors with a collective .666 OPS and 29th with a 77 wRC+, hitting only 11 homers as a group. Shaw crushed Double-A pitching during a 37-game stint there, hitting .301/.390/.511 with six homers before moving to the Minors’ highest level. He continued to be a solid hitter in the Pacific Coast League with a .289/.328/.530 line and 18 homers in 88 games.
After struggling with a jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A in 2016, Shaw could feel himself becoming better equipped to handle a tougher level in his second full season this summer.
“Honestly, I think it’s just the natural maturation of becoming a good hitter,” Shaw said. “It’s better in-game awareness that comes with time. But for me, it was a lot of trusting my ability to hit to all parts of the park. This was he first year I felt like I could drive it the opposite way with authority. … It started in Spring Training honestly. It wasn’t even on outside pitches. Some of them were probably in. But I was still hitting them on a good trajectory, and I knew I didn’t need to look inside for only pull-side power anymore.”
The numbers back up those statements. Of the 24 homers he hit in 2017, six went to either left field or left-center. Only one of his 21 blasts in 2016 did so. Even though Shaw struck out at a rate of 29.4 percent, it was the punch he packed to all fields that allowed him to keep hitting for a good average.
In an ideal world, Shaw would’ve at least gotten a look at AT&T Park when rosters expanded in September, especially with injuries sidelining Austin Slater for much of the second half. But nothing involving the Giants could be called ideal as the club finished tied with the Tigers for the game’s worst record at 64-98. Shaw doesn’t need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft until next November at the latest, so the Giants didn’t feel the need to rush his timeline for a losing effort.
That hasn’t upset Shaw, who knew how much work he’d need to put in defensively to force the issue.
“Had it been a situation where I was already on the roster or the 40-man stuff would’ve synced up, that may have been a different story,” Shaw said. “I probably could’ve been up for my offense alone. But the way they see it, when I’m up, they want to make sure everything is where it needs to be. They don’t want to impede me defensively, so I’m here to get more polish.”
Because he’s still playing, however, and other Giants left-field candidates are not, this could be a time for Shaw to take the spotlight and make his case for a Major League spot in the spring. However, he’d rather focus on what he can do well offensively and fixing what he can’t defensively instead of worrying about things outside his control.
“I’m not looking at it like, ‘Hey, if I kill it, I’m going to make the team,'” he said. “For me, this is just another chance to play really good baseball in a really good league. There’s no pressure one way or the other, especially with the season being as far away as it is. Spring Training will speak for itself. I understand this could be a springboard for bigger things, but I just want to do well and let things figure themselves out from there.”
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.