I was traveling to California last week and decided to spend one of my vacation days observing the San Jose Giants play the Modesto Nuts at Municipal Stadium. By far the hottest professional game I have ever witnessed, this contest was littered with top prospects. RHSP Sam Coonrod, rated the Giants fifth best youngster by MinorLeagueball, and RHSP Ryan Castellani, rated the Rockies’ number fifteen prospect, faced off in an epic pitching duel. Forrest Wall was starting at second for the Nuts and the scalding-hot CJ Hinojosa was playing shortstop for the Giants. But one particular player, Chris Shaw, the Giants’ top minor league first baseman and sixth overall prospect, stood out as an individual who could make a real difference on a major league team in the near future.
The San Francisco Giants selected Chris Shaw in the first round, 31st overall, in the 2015 draft out of Boston College. As college draftees are supposed to do, Shaw proceeded to dominate the lower levels of the minor leagues. In 2015, as a 21 year-old in Low-A Salem-Keizer, Shaw put together an impressive .287/.360/.551 slash line, slugging 11 doubles and 12 home runs in just 46 games. That amounts to a ridiculous 81 extra-base hits prorated over a 162 game season. He has continued this success in 2016. This season, he is currently posting a very similar .291/.362/.553 line, while actually improving his power output with 30 extra-base hits in 54 games.
Shaw has a very pure swing that should play well at the higher levels. He does not have much pre-pitch movement, resting his bat on his shoulder originally before moving the stick to a 45 degree angle as the pitcher delivers. His subsequent load is textbook. He shifts his hands back towards the catcher while sending his front leg forward in one, calm, smooth motion. He probably could generate more power by increasing the distance between his hands and legs. But this short load accelerates his bat speed and allows him to catch up to hard fastballs. He rotates his hips quickly and was able to turn a 94 mph inside fastball into a deep home run to right field during my viewing. His strong base and quiet upper body give Shaw excellent balance. His swing has a clear uppercut that is already helping the Massachusetts native collect an obscene number of doubles and homers. I think his hit tool has the potential to be above-average in the major leagues.
FV Hit Grade: 45/55
One of Shaw’s most conspicuous traits is his size. He stands a tall 6’4" and is listed at 255 pounds on Baseball-Reference. Apparently, that means Shaw is 25 pounds heavier than David Ortiz. But, unlike that of Oritz, Shaw’s weight consists in lean muscle. He is extremely built and in excellent shape, an intimidating figure when he walks up to the plate. His conditioning and size enable him to easily launch pitcher’s mistakes far into the seats. During one at-bat versus Modesto, Shaw did not square up the ball. He still manage to send the pitch all the way out to the 390 sign in center field. He did not even appear to fully swing on the pitch that he sent well over the 330 foot right field fence. This kid has natural, effortless power.
FV Power Grade: 55/65
I really liked Shaw’s approach at the plate. He waits for his pitch, recognizes breaking balls, and does not chase outside the zone. This is evident in his .362 on base percentage. But he is not passive. He looks like he knows what he is doing at the plate and comes to bat with a plan. When he got a pitch that he liked, Shaw was aggressive and swung early in the count. He swung at the first pitch in two of his first three at-bats. But he is only aggressive insofar as being aggressive in that situation is smart. In the at-bat in which he homered, Shaw took a high fastball for a ball and then jumped on the next fastball that was right over the heart of the plate. In short, Shaw is a very smart hitter, who will wait for his pitch to come and swing hard when it does. He combines patience with aggression.
As expected, Shaw struggled defensively at first base. On the opening play of the game, he muffed a hard-hit grounder to his backhand side that would have been a routine play in the majors. He did not receive much more action during the game; however, John has already noted that Shaw’s "defense needs a lot of work to be acceptable." I believe that Shaw is athletic enough to learn to be serviceable at first, but this is clearly the area of his game that needs the most developing.
FV Defensive Grade: 30/45
In the media box, I sat next to Anthony Sanders, former major leaguer with the Mariners and Blue Jays and current Developmental Supervisor for the Modesto Nuts. When I asked Sanders what California League players stood out to him, Shaw was at the top of his list:
"I like him a lot. I like his swing. I think he could make a real difference for [the Giants]."
Indeed, Shaw has the makings of an All-Star first baseman, provided he can improve his defense. He should hit for both average and power, while drawing his share of walks. Shaw’s floor is also high. Worst-case, should his defense not develop. he seems slated for a career as a designated hitter in the American League, given his already-refined offensive game, As a polished college draftee, Shaw could be ready for the bigs in the very near future. Of Course, Brandon Belt and his $79M contract stand in the way, but that’s for another article. Chris Shaw will shoot up the prospect boards this winter.
Ceiling: All-Star first basemen
Floor: designated hitter