Travis Shaw is on the Rise
There is a competition brewing in Boston at the third base position that has yet to gain relevance in the baseball community at large. Part of the reason for this is the incumbent at the position is so grossly overpaid that logic dictates the organization must allow him to play. The other part of the equation is that the challenger is a former little known prospect whose success over 65 major league games during the 2015 season was too small a sample size to be convincing. Believe me when I tell you that Travis Shaw is gunning for Pablo Sandoval’s job and it sure looks like open season on the Panda in Boston.
This speculation comes at a time when Shaw has put up a slash line of .441/.472/.676 so far in spring training with two home runs. Shaw has seen time at first base and third base, all positions he played last season, however its third base that he has his eye on. When asked about Shaw’s performance so far and how it could affect his playing time going forward John Farrell recently added more fuel to the fire by saying that, “He could be competing for regular at-bats.” Wait what? Farrell is willing to give at-bats to Shaw that everyone thought would be going to the 95 million dollar Sandoval? It was just 65 games so why all the confidence?
Before you dismiss the “Mayor of Ding-Dong City” as just a flash in the pan let’s take a look at some of what he was able to accomplish last season. Over those 65 games Shaw slashed .274/.331/.491 while belting 13 home runs. Shaw was able to achieve an impressive ISO of .217 while feasting on fastballs and changeups slugging well over .500 against those pitches. To give you an idea of how prodigious his power was in 2015 just look to Kris Bryant who posted an ISO of .213 on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award and is known for his light-tower power. While I am not saying he’s in that rarified air, his power certainly plays.
To further tackle the question of why Farrell would be willing to entertain the thought of benching Sandoval in favor of Shaw we first have to look at the other positions that Shaw could spend time at. Last year he spent majority of his time at first base but this spring that has been given over to Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez has played an impressive 63 innings at first so far this spring while committing zero errors and batting .310. Granted the sample size is minute but Ramirez looks like he’s already more comfortable that he was all of last year in the field and is engaged on every play. The Red Sox need his bat in the lineup and will not give up on him easily. In left-field the Sox expect to field Rusney Castillo, who while he has his downside with the bat has the potential to be an elite fielder at a position Shaw logged only one game at during 2015.
With left-field and first base unlikely landing spots for Shaw that leaves us third base. Sandoval has done himself no favors so far this spring batting a punch-less .250 and committing four errors in the field. Much has been made of his weight this spring but perhaps more than any other time in his career it seems to be affecting his range and ability to run the bases. The 29-year-old Sandoval will turn 30 this August and is no longer young enough to make up for his weight issues. At just 25 years old, Shaw has looked good at both first and third base but Farrell has made it a point to give him 53 of his 58 innings this spring at the hot corner—he has so far committed zero errors at either position.
The final piece to the puzzle is that neither Farrell nor Dave Dombrowski owe Pablo Sandoval anything. After back to back finishes in the basement of the AL East even the shine of that 2013 World Series trophy can’t keep Farrell off the hot seat. If the team gets out to a slow start he will likely find himself without a job by June at the latest. A big reason that they could fail is Sandoval. Dombrowski also has little skin in the game with Sandoval since he was not the guy who signed him. Dombrowski wants to win and would likely be fine with eating some money while finding a trade partner for Sandoval since ownership can certainly not count this mess against him. If it truly is going to come down to purely a baseball decision then Sandoval could be in real trouble.
What does this mean for you the savvy fantasy baseball owner? It means you need to be speculating on Shaw’s ascension at the end of all of your fantasy drafts this spring. This is a player that could find himself with duel positional eligibility and a full slate of at-bats in short order. Shaw’s left-handed power stroke has shown no platoon split and has an ability to approach the 30 home run mark with 500 plus at-bats. The Red Sox ownership has shown with Carl Crawford that when a situation isn’t working out that they are willing to eat money to free themselves from it. If they do cut bait then Shaw stands to benefit hugely and so will your fantasy team.