At the start of the year, it seemed unlikely that Travis Shaw would see a lengthy opportunity to prove himself with the Red Sox. Beyond the quartet of options on the big league roster — Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, and Brock Holt — it appeared more likely that Garin Cecchini would be in line for an extended look than Shaw.
But struggles by the other four first base candidates cleared the brush, and suddenly, Shaw saw an open field and started running. As Nick Cafardo writes, he’s been a considerable surprise, someone who has put himself into the picture as a candidate to help the Sox at first base going forward.
Still, the Sox face a measure of uncertainty with the idea of committing to Shaw. He’s been impressive in slamming 10 homers in his first 46 career games, but a survey of the 31 players who have reached double digits in homers in the first 50 games of a big league debut reveals that such a strong start doesn’t say much about a player’s future direction.
For every Jose Abreu and Albert Pujols and Carlos Correa and Giancarlo Stanton, there’s a Brad Eldred or a Brennan Boesch or a Mike Jacobs or a Will Middlebrooks — players whose hot starts have not translated to consistent big league production.
The disparity between Shaw’s Triple A performance this year (.249/.318/.356 with five homers) further underscores the point. There are many people who believe in Shaw as a hitter, but the absence of a well-established track record creates some uncertainty about his future.
Of course, it’s not as if the Red Sox have an in-house alternative with clear performance expectations going forward. Craig is now hitting .121/.227/.167 in the big leagues this year, and he owns a .203/.272/.296 line since the beginning of 2014.
Hanley Ramirez may or may not play a big league game at first before the end of the year, so his ability to adapt at first base remains an unknown. That defensive question mark comes in a year where he’s had the worst offensive season of his career, hitting .249/.291/.426 in 105 games.
And while there are out-of-organization options at first — free-agent Chris Davis comes to mind — the last two years in Boston have offered evidence of the uncertainties involved in transition.
So: Who’s on first? That may be the most unsettled positional question facing the Red Sox as they move forward towards 2016 — but within that uncertainty comes opportunity, and for his part, Shaw is doing his best to take advantage of it.