BOSTON — Travis Shaw might as well hold up a sign that says, “Hey guys, look at me.”
Shaw, recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket before Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, showed up to Fenway Park not knowing whether he’d be in the Boston Red Sox’s starting lineup. The 25-year-old left knowing he made the most of his opportunity to fill in for injured third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Shaw launched two home runs — the first two of his major league career — and reached base five times in the first game of his fifth stint with the Red Sox this season. He scored five runs — the most by a Red Sox player since Dustin Pedroia scored five on Aug. 12, 2008 — and undoubtedly turned heads as Boston defeated Tampa Bay 11-7.
“Travis looks like he’s been here for years the way he swung the bat today, the way he played third base,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the win.
The Red Sox’s farm system has been lauded the past few seasons for being one of the best in Major League Baseball. Shaw isn’t considered a premium prospect, though, so his outburst against the Rays comes as a surprise. He had been just 3-for-15 in 16 big league plate appearances before going berserk.
“I felt pretty good at the plate,” Shaw said of his monster afternoon. “It was good to be able to come up here and get another opportunity. Just trying to make the most of my opportunities up here and try to help the team win any way that I can.”
Shaw has the generic lingo down, but it’s appropriate in his case. He’s been an under-the-radar farmhand since the Red Sox drafted him in the ninth round in 2011, and he’s now starting to make noise at the perfect time.
Mike Napoli, who went 0-for-5 on Saturday, is slated to hit free agency this offseason, meaning the Red Sox likely will need a new first baseman for 2016. Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez are potential candidates to assume Napoli’s vacated post, though the Red Sox could look outside the organization.
But perhaps there’s a third option that hasn’t been discussed all that much: Shaw.
While the Red Sox probably prefer someone with a proven track record, Shaw has shown power in the minors, totaling 21 homers in 128 games between Pawtucket and Double-A Portland last season. He also is known for having good plate discipline and can play both corner infield positions.
“Just very relaxed, confident, good swings, easy power to the stroke,” Farrell said.
No one is suggesting that Shaw is going to blossom into a Hall of Famer, which he looked like Saturday. But he also showed flashes of his potential in a three-hit effort July 7 against the Miami Marlins. Shaw could be positioning himself for an extended look in a lost season, if nothing else.
“I just try to control what I can control,” Shaw said. “Each day I’m in the lineup I’m here, just try to make the most of it and then hopefully that speaks for itself.”
“I like being a part of this organization,” he added. “I’m just trying to find my role right now and trying to earn my way up here to stay. I’m just trying to do whatever I can.”
Opportunities have been few and far between for Shaw to this point. And perhaps that still will be the case once Sandoval returns if Napoli remains with the organization beyond August. It’s difficult to ignore a huge performance like the one Shaw provided Saturday, though, especially when a first base vacancy looms large without a clear successor.
Each opportunity Shaw receives moving forward represents an open audition. So far, so good.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images