San Francisco Giants: The Future is Approaching with Chris Shaw

Apr 12, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; A general view of AT&T Park as the Arizona Diamond Backs warm up prior to their game against the San Francisco Giants. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Villa-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2017; San Francisco, CA, USA; A general view of AT&T Park as the Arizona Diamond Backs warm up prior to their game against the San Francisco Giants. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Villa-USA TODAY Sports /

Young slugger Chris Shaw is getting closer to the San Francisco Giants, and a position change might have been the best thing for him and the team.

There was a time, not too long ago, that it looked like Chris Shaw‘s biggest contribution to the San Francisco Giants would be as trade bait. Though possessing dazzling power that could help any team, defense seemed to be his biggest issue. He was a first baseman by trade, and not a great one at that, and with Brandon Belt inking a nice, long extension, Shaw was basically roadblocked.

But things have certainly changed this season. While playing in Double-A with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, Shaw is no longer exclusively a first baseman. He has started to play left field regularly as well, and has taken well to the position. That move could be just what he, and the Giants, needed.

Shaw, the Giants’ 2015 first-round pick (31st overall), came to the organization with a reputation for power. In three seasons with Boston College, Shaw hit 23 home runs in 145 games. That trend continued in his first taste of professional ball, with Shaw hitting 12 home runs in just 46 games for the Low-A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in 2015.

He was promoted to High-A ball in 2016, playing with the San Jose Giants, and he flourished there as well. In just about half a season (72 games), he hit .285/.357/.544 and threatened the club’s single-season home run. He hit 16 home runs with the Little Giants, and had a chance to get close to the 30 home runs that Adam Duvall hit in 134 games in 2012.

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He didn’t get the opportunity, though, as he was promoted to Double-A for the first time in the middle of the season. Playing in a notorious hitter unfriendly league, Shaw struggled to a .246/.309/.414 slash-line, and hit only five home runs in 60 games. His second taste of Double-A went much better.

Shaw was back with Richmond this year, and was playing extremely well. Though trying to play a new position, hiss bat stayed strong. In 37 games with the Flying Squirrels, he owned a .301/.390/.511 slash-line, with a .901 OPS that ranked fifth-best in the Eastern League. He led the Double-A team with six home runs and 29 runs batted in, and added 10 doubles as well.

Maybe most impressively, Shaw has shown a much more advanced knowledge of the strike zone. In 154 plate appearances this year, he is striking out 16.9 percent of the time, a full five percent lower than his first two minor league seasons. His walk rate has also seen a spike, going from 8.8 percent in 2015-2016 to 11.7 percent in 2017.

The numbers show that Shaw was ready for the jump, and with Chris Marrero signing with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan, a spot was open for Shaw to make that jump. General manager Bobby Evans says that, in Triple-A with the Sacramento River Cats, Shaw will continue his endeavors as a left fielder rather than playing first base. Instead, Jae-gyun Hwang (a third baseman by trade), Austin Slater (an outfielder that isn’t far from his own call-up), and Ryder Jones (a third baseman that has also taken to left field in recent weeks) will split time at first base.

With the future of the Giants’ outfield in flux, it’s not difficult to think that Shaw could have a real future in the green grass at AT&T Park. Hunter Pence and Denard Span are both free agents after the season, and left field continues to be a crapshoot, as it has been for years. Mac Williamson is still trying to prove his mettle at the big league level, as is the now-injured Jarrett Parker, and Slater could have his own opportunity later this year. With Bryan Reynolds, 2016’s first-round pick, playing well at San Jose right now, the future of the outfield seems to be in better shape than it has been in a long.

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Shaw’s power has always been enticing, but now that he has a new position, it’s even more alluring.