A new opportunity invigorated Travis Shaw in 2017. After getting drafted by the Red Sox back in 2011, Shaw climbed the minor league ladder until a stellar partial season debut in 2015. Though he had primarily played first base during his career, Shaw was thrown into the open competition for the Red Sox third base job the following spring, and had staked his claim to the position by Opening Day. He got off to a strong start but hit a slump in the middle of summer; as a result, the Red Sox went out and acquired Aaron Hill (from the Brewers) to platoon with Shaw, which drastically cut into his playing time. Shaw struggled to adjust after losing his status as a regular in the lineup and continued to have difficulties at the plate. After the season concluded and Shaw finished with a below-average 89 wRC+, he was traded to Milwaukee as a part of the package for reliever Tyler Thornburg.
Shaw expressed his displeasure about being used as a part-time player in Boston and was looking forward to playing third base full-time for Milwaukee. With a full-time opportunity and new surroundings, the soon-to-be 28 year old took off once the 2017 season began. Shaw quickly settled in as Milwaukee’s cleanup hitter, providing a consistent source of power and on-base ability as the anchor of the lineup. Travis wound up taking a career-high 606 trips to the plate, and at the end of the season his slash stood at .273/.349/.513 (119 wRC+). The move from Fenway to Miller Park helped provide a sizable power boost, as ‘The Mayor of Ding Dong City’ cracked 31 long balls and posted a .240 ISO. He became the first Brewer to accrue 100 or more runs batted in since Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez both surpassed the century mark for RBI back in 2012. The 6’4”, 230 lb left-handed slugger even stole 10 bases without being caught, to boot.
Shaw swung far less at pitches outside of the strike zone in 2017 than he did during the first two seasons of his career and posted a career-low 8.9% swinging strike rate, which helped him post career-best totals in both his walk rate (9.9%) and strikeout rate (22.8%). A change in Shaw’s swing plane helped him hit fewer pop ups, increase his overall contact, and boost his hard contact rate by some four points up to 37.1%. Travis feasted on fastballs and fastball variants; 20 of his 31 dingers came against four-seamers, sinkers, or cutters.
Though he came up as a first baseman, Shaw has been surprisingly adept at the hot corner since moving there in 2016. He made only nine errors last season while receiving grades of +3 Defensive Runs Saved and +0.9 Fielding Runs Above Average. Shaw has said that he prefers first base and given his large physique, it stands to reason that he will eventually have to move back to the cold corner as he ages and his range decreases. That shouldn’t be much of a factor anytime soon, though.
Perhaps most impressive about his breakout campaign was the fact that Shaw accomplished all this while he and his wife were dealing with an infant daughter in Children’s Hospital. Shaw’s daughter Ryann was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome in June. She required multiple open heart surgeries shortly after she was born. When the team was playing at home, Shaw could be found either at the ballpark or at Children’s with his wife and daughter. The Shaw’s elected to stay in Milwaukee during the offseason so that Ryann could continue receiving care at Children’s (rated as a top-five hospital for treating the condition). Ryann was finally able to leave the hospital and go home with her parents in December, close to six months after she was born.
Shaw's performance earned him team MVP honors last season, but the projection systems say that we probably shouldn't expect him to duplicate that level success in 2018. Even with that in mind, though, Travis should still be one of the team's most integral contributors during the upcoming season. Backing Shaw up at third will be Hernan Perez and Eric Sogard, but unless he gets injured or his numbers fall off a cliff, expect Travis to be in the starting lineup on a close to everyday basis.
In the Minors
Milwaukee's best prospect at the hot corner is 2016 draftee Lucas Erceg, who spent last season with high-A Carolina. He figures to begin this year in AA. Beyond Erceg, the third base depth chart consists mostly of org depth types like Nate Orf, Nick Franklin, Blake Allemand, and Javier Betancourt. Prospect Jake Gatewood has also played some third, including a little bit last season in AA, but he has been primarily a first baseman for the last couple of seasons.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus
Will Travis Shaw hit 30+ home runs again in 2018?
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