Sacramento River Cats

Giants’ top slugging prospect wants to ‘force their hand’ – and he’s a step closer

Chris Shaw, recently promoted from Double-A Richmond, takes batting practice before debuting for the Triple-A River Cats on Thursday at Raley Field. Shaw, a natural first baseman, is trying to convert to the outfield.
Chris Shaw, recently promoted from Double-A Richmond, takes batting practice before debuting for the Triple-A River Cats on Thursday at Raley Field. Shaw, a natural first baseman, is trying to convert to the outfield.

Chris Shaw said he signed a six-month lease for an apartment before starting this season at Double-A Richmond. He made it almost a third of the way through before having to break it.

“I think when that’s the worst thing about it, you’re pretty happy,” Shaw said.

The Giants promoted Shaw, their top power-hitting prospect and a 2015 first-round pick, to the Triple-A River Cats this week after just 37 games at Double-A. Shaw, 23, was set to make his Sacramento debut in left field Thursday night against the Memphis Redbirds.

A left-handed hitter, Shaw was batting .301 with six home runs and a .901 on-base-plus-slugging percentage at Richmond, drawing the attention of Giants general manager Bobby Evans. Even in a short span, Shaw demonstrated he “was starting to get to the point where he was ready for the next challenge,” Evans told reporters in Chicago this week.

“I definitely felt very comfortable at the plate in Double A, and having an idea of what I needed to do to be successful,” Shaw said Thursday after batting practice at Raley Field. “Yeah, I feel ready for the next challenge.”

Shaw is expected to be the River Cats’ regular left fielder. He played some outfield at Boston College, mostly right field, before the Giants made him the 31st overall pick in 2015 and put him at first base for his first two seasons in the minors. They moved him this season to left field, where he’d played 18 games for Richmond.

Shaw said he was working on the transition at Double A with Vince Coleman, whom the Giants hired this spring as a roving minor-league base-running and outfield instructor. He said the biggest difference is on fly balls hit toward the foul line, which he’s now chasing to his backhand side, and judging the amount of slice on balls hit by left-handers.

“I’m hoping to get to that point where it’s second nature for me and not even something I think about,” Shaw said. “But it’s like anything else, I need to play a lot out there and just make it my second home.”

Left field has been something of a revolving door for the Giants, who’ve used a different Opening Day left fielder for 11 consecutive seasons. Jarrett Parker, who started there this year, broke his collarbone running into the wall making a catch on April 15, and already the Giants have used six other starting left fielders in the first two months of the season.

Shaw may not be an immediate solution. The Giants don’t need to add him to the 40-man roster until after the 2018 season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. And they have another hot-hitting outfielder at Triple A – Austin Slater, batting .318 – who would have to be added at some point this year and has more outfield experience than Shaw.

“I understand all that stuff,” Shaw said. “I’d like to think I can put myself in a spot to maybe force their hand. I’m going to go out every day and play as hard as I can. That’s all I can control is effort, trying to win and having fun. So if I can force their hand, great. But I also understand the whole aspect where they don’t have to add me this year.”

Shaw’s power, though, is intriguing. After hitting 12 home runs in 46 games in short-season A-ball in 2015, he hit 21 last season between High-A San Jose and Richmond. Now he’s going from the pitcher-friendly Eastern League to the Pacific Coast League where stadiums in Albuquerque and Colorado Springs can double as launching pads.

The natural inclination for a power hitter may be to let loose. But Shaw thinks he won’t struggle to rein himself in.

“Something I went into this year trying to focus on was trying to almost eliminate the thought of power from my approach at the plate, and just kind of understanding what pitchers are going to do and trying to maximize whatever I think their mistake’s going to be,” he said.

“A lot of times, for me anyway, it’s just kind of swallowing my pride and driving that ball to the opposite field and not trying to do too much with it. And I think if I stay with that approach, in a hitter-friendly environment, I think it will continue to reward me and I’ll start seeing some more power numbers.”

Shaw had six homers in 133 at-bats this year at Richmond. But he also drove in 29 runs and drew 18 walks to just 26 strikeouts. And it all convinced the Giants to promote him.

“I went in there, I did what I wanted to do,” Shaw said. “And I think they rewarded me.”