Spring training should never be taken too seriously, even for deeply passionate Red Sox fans. You’re likely tired of hearing that already, but it’s generally one of the great truisms of baseball. It’s only March, and players are more focused on alleviating the winter rust than producing exceptional results. Nevertheless, for one Red Sox player, a strong spring is substantiating the fine work he did last year, and forcing the front office into making a difficult decision.
Travis Shaw is nothing short of an aberration at this point. Last season, the imposing first baseman enjoyed 65 games with the Red Sox, hitting at a .270/.327/.487 clip with 13 home runs and 36 RBI. A rather unheralded prospect, he crept quietly onto the radar, before impressing many people with a robust introduction to the Major Leagues.
This spring, the 25-year old Shaw has continued his maturation. He is hitting .522 through eight exhibition games, with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and a 1.430 OPS. Obviously, we can’t extrapolate too much meaning from such an inconsequentially small sample size, but it is mildly notable that Shaw leads all players in batting average and on-base percentage so far this spring, forcing the front office to reconsider his future.
From time to time, Red Sox Nation falls in love with an underdog-type player and compels him to make the team and fulfill his potential. Shaw is the latest beneficiary of that phenomenon. In this regard, he reminds me a little of Kevin Youkilis, in terms of striving for progress by sheer force of work ethic. And, just like Youk, Shaw has added a second position to his repertoire in the selfless determination to help the Red Sox moving forward.
Travis has played plenty of third base this spring, with Hanley Ramirez clogging up his natural position. Similarly, plans are afoot to try Shaw in left field, adding another tool to his arsenal. At this point, it seems that Shaw will hit his way onto the roster, even if only as a Brock Holt-type utility guy initially. Yet, for John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski, it’s reassuring to know that, should the experiments with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval fail, they have an adequate replacement waiting in the wings.
We should never read too much into the statistics of spring training, but actions and attitudes speak volumes regardless of our location in the calendar. Right now, Travis Shaw is gaining attention for his impressive production, but perhaps more importantly, he’s gaining admirers for his altruistic outlook and dedicated approach. If only roster decisions were made on true merit, rather than pure economics.