Shaw's Smashing Salem Debut Encourages Red Sox

BOSTON—Travis Shaw's professional baseball future commenced on April 16, 1990, when he was less than a day old.

His father Jeff Shaw—who would make his big league debut with the Indians later that month—received a call from his agent Joe Bick. Bick had a proposition.

"Joe called and said, 'That is my 2008 draft pick,' " Jeff Shaw recalled with amusement at the agent's friendly insistence that one day he would represent the newborn. "It came to fruition."

Bick's prophesy came to pass. The Red Sox drafted Travis Shaw in the 32nd round out of his Washington Court House, Ohio, high school in 2008, but at the advice of his father and Bick, who was then his adviser, he passed on a pro career to attend Kent State. Boston came calling again three years later, this time drafting Shaw in the ninth round, and he's enjoyed one of the most impressive full-season debuts of any position player from the 2011 draft.

Shaw performed well with Lowell in the short-season New York-Penn League last summer, batting .262/.371/.446 with eight homers in 57 games. Still, based on that performance and his modest profile at the time of his draft selection, few could have envisioned the type of season he would assemble with Salem of the high Class A Carolina League this season.

Shaw was batting .317/.418/.565 with 16 homers, 30 doubles and 55 walks in 338 at-bats. In each of those categories he ranked near or at the top of the Carolina League leaderboard, despite playing in an extreme pitcher's park in Salem. Additionally, he led the circuit with 49 extra-base hits. Drafted as a third baseman, Shaw has spent most of this season at first base while also moving to the hot corner a handful of time in recent weeks.

The lefthanded hitter earned MVP honors at the all-star game pitting his Carolina League against representatives from the visiting California League. He crushed a long homer to left field in the game, the pinnacle of a huge power stretch that saw him belt 11 homers in the span of 29 games. Red Sox officials rave about Shaw's plate discipline and advanced approach, his ability to stay inside the ball and drive it to left-center, noting that he has a swing made for Fenway Park.

Family Collaboration

The 22-year-old Shaw has made the transition to full-season ball appear seamless. Of course, in many respects, it has been.

Much of Shaw's upbringing took place in big league clubhouses. Travis was a constant presence at home and even on the road as his father Jeff played for the Expos, White Sox, Reds and Dodgers.

"On a daily basis, if I could not find him in the clubhouse, I knew where he was at. He was down in the batting cages and in the tunnels, watching guys hit, waiting for one of the coaches to get done with the players so the kids could get in there," said Jeff Shaw, whose career spanned parts of 12 big league seasons and included a pair of all-star berths as a closer. "He was brought up around the game, wanted to be brought up around it and still does."

Travis suggests that he always knew he wanted to be a professional ballplayer, and that his father ensured that he worked purposefully towards that goal.

"Even as an 11-year-old kid, I was working on things," he said. "My dad was definitely getting me to work on swing mechanics. He didn't want me going down there, blindly working on stuff. So when I was down there, it was business for him and it rubbed off on me."

That continues to be the case. Even now, the two collaborate on a near-nightly basis, talking by phone after every game to go through every at-bat that Travis has in order to discuss what he was trying to do as a hitter and what the pitcher was trying to accomplish with his sequence.

Jeff listens to or watches virtually every game online, save for those that he attends, and so the father and son break down the cat-and-mouse game as part of a postgame routine.
"I have a pretty good memory. We go through each at-bat on a pitch-by-pitch basis, and he takes me through what the pitcher is trying to do," Travis said. "(Jeff) has a lot of experience on the pitching side. He's usually pretty right on. It allows me to look into the pitcher's mind, figure out what he's trying to do to get me out. Going through that pitch-by-pitch sequence gives me an inside track about what to sort of expect at the plate."

Ahead Of The Curve

His father's insight, along with the influence of Salem hitting coach Rich Gedman, has allowed Shaw to spend most of the year ahead of the developmental curve. Rather than making an adjustment to the professional process, he has understood from the beginning the importance of developing a routine and a plate approach, while being mindful of the proverbial ups and downs on life in pro ball.

The result has been a season beyond any reasonable expectations for a player who enjoyed tremendous success with Kent State but who was somewhat overlooked in the draft by virtue of his size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), lack of foot speed (though he has sneaky athleticism and solid instincts) and questions about his position. While he has played first base for much of this year, Shaw insists that he can still play third, a position where he still feels at home.

Shaw knows he must earn his prospect status through level-by-level performance. Thus far, he has shown the ability to do just that, bringing to mind a former Red Sox player who hailed from an upper-Midwest college program and lasted until the eighth round of the 2001 draft yet grinded his way to a prominent place in franchise history.

"I look back and see that (Kevin Youkilis) was drafted in the eighth round, the success he had and how quickly he was able to move through the system," Shaw said. "With me skipping Low-A, I think I'm on maybe the same track to go through the system a little faster than maybe people would think a ninth-rounder would. With the success I've had this year, hopefully I'll be able to continue to build off of that."

Shaw remains in touch with fellow 2011 draftee Jackie Bradley, with whom Shaw roomed during the first half, since the former moved up to Double-A Portland. He hopes his performance dictates that he will soon be reunited with Bradley in the Eastern League.  

At the same time, perhaps because of his background, Shaw also understands the nature of the business, understands that little can be gained from looking ahead. Instead, he's content to continue to prove himself as he has done throughout his season in Salem, and to bide his time as he plots a course that appeared destined at the time of his birth.

"I'm in no rush," Shaw said. "I'm just trying to continue to do my day-in, day-out stuff, and hopefully my numbers and production will continue to speak for themselves."