Is Travis Shaw a Fantasy Asset?

ZiPS hates him and Steamer thinks he will be exactly average, albeit in limited plate appearances, but signs are pointing in the right direction for Travis Shaw. Shaw is currently competing for regular plate appearances with Pablo Sandoval at third base. He was expected to get some work in left field but that has apparently either been halted or nixed as he continues his battles with Sandoval at the hot corner. While that can be seen as a negative in his overall utility, I see it as a positive in the likelihood of him taking plate appearances away from Sandoval.

While his minor league struggles were worrisome, which is the basis of the poor projections, some of the statements Shaw has made regarding video scouting make his surge in the majors and this spring make a bit more sense. Here are a few of his quotes from a piece in the Providence Journal, which I only was able to find thanks to a blog post over at Over The Monster.

“I would say probably three weeks after I got [to the majors], I noticed the difference. A lot of guys started attacking me in, on the inner half,” Shaw said. “I was looking in the whole time swinging at everything, then I started to realize a lot of those pitches weren’t strikes. So based off film work, I was able to get back to where I needed to go and stop worrying about the pitch in.”

The lack of video scouting available in the minors may have been a reason for Shaw’s struggles in triple-A. It could all be baloney as well, but this does at least point to a reason why Shaw hit .274/.331/.491 with a .310 BABIP in his 250 plate appearance debut last season compared to the .249/.318/.356 mark in 322 triple-A plate appearances.

“You can tell,” Shaw said. “For one, [pitchers] execute, so when they think you have a hole, they’re going to pound it. They execute it on a pretty consistent basis, whereas in the minor leagues you can still hit mistakes here and there…. I’ve always been a numbers guy and a scouting guy. I feel like when I have a good idea of what’s going on and what they’re trying to do to me, I can combat that pretty well.”

Shaw still posted a relatively weak walk-to-strikeout rate in the majors so it is not that he all of a sudden found out where all of his holes are, but seeing a young player that can adapt and that looks both internally at what he is doing wrong and externally at what pitchers are trying to do to get him out is most certainly a positive. Shaw has also had seasons of real production in the minors too so it is not as though this is a player who lacks offensive skills – his high-A numbers in 2012 an double-A numbers in 2014 both saw him with a wRC+ over 160.

From a fantasy perspective it is difficult to at last not be intrigued at Shaw’s emergence last season and his .474/.500/.737 line over 38 at bats this spring. While spring stats obviously mean very little, they mean at least slightly more when the player is competing for a roster spot and showed improved performance down the stretch in the previous season.

The real key to Shaw will come down to playing time. We can try and project what he will do all we want, but with such a limited sample of the Shaw we saw in the majors (a Shaw that actually hit same handed pitching better than righties) that we really do not know what to expect. What we do know is that his fantasy price is so low that you can essentially grab him for free or close to it and drop him quickly if the production does not continue. The playing time issue is real in that Sandoval is only on year two of a big multi year deal and the other players that Shaw could potentially take plate appearances from are David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez.

The combination of Ortiz’s age, Ramirez’s injury history and lack of production last season, and the fact that he is already pushing Sandoval for playing time makes me think he will be in line for playing time this year to the tune of somewhere around 400 plate appearances. I doubt it will be the kind of year where he makes spot starts in front of these guys, as I expect there to be stretches where players ahead of him are missing time. The hope for anyone who has already drafted or picked up Shaw is that he starts at third base over Sandoval on opening day. Even if that does not occur, I see enough openings for him to get regular playing time at some point in the season.

Obviously a lot of fantasy teams cannot stomach having a bench player on the roster, but the play right now would be to add Shaw in hopes of him earning the third base role and go from there. If you are in a league deep enough to hold onto him, he is a player who can produce outsized results given the free cost of acquiring him. Shaw may go back to being a middling, below average corner infield bat, but he also may have found something in his game that he had not previously seen. Finding those types of players, specifically in dynasty and keeper leagues, is how you really create value on your roster.

Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

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