Shaw showing ‘exceptional’ work ethic in first MLB camp

March 7th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MESA, Ariz. -- quickly ranged to his right, snagged the chopper off the bat of Kansas City’s Tyler Gentry and then threw across his body after taking two strides into foul territory. The precise one-hopper arrived at first base just in time, completing a highlight-reel out that put the prospect’s offseason work on display.

“That was a great play,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said.

The defensive gem in the fifth inning of the Cubs’ Cactus League game against the Royals on Tuesday night was a glimpse into Shaw’s ability to embrace a challenge and excel. A middle infielder throughout his collegiate and pro career to date, Shaw spent much of his winter work focusing on third base.

Shaw’s advanced offensive skills played a key role in the Cubs’ selecting him as their first-round pick (13th overall) in last year’s Draft. It is also why Shaw is already MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 ranked Cubs prospect on the newly-unveiled Top 30 list, not to mention the No. 54 prospect in all of baseball on the Top 100 rankings.

The bat should help Shaw climb the Cubs’ organizational ladder swiftly, but his defensive versatility has the potential to expedite the process further. Chicago has a pair of Gold Glovers up the middle in shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Nico Hoerner. If Shaw can earn trust as a third baseman, the road to The Show could be short.

“His work ethic is pretty exceptional,” Hoyer said. “I think he's just one of those guys that is like, 'Oh, you want me to play third? Great. I'm just going to take a gazillion ground balls at third and I'll work as hard as I can there.' I just think that whatever task or thing we give him, he's just going to tackle it like that, which is great. That's his personality.”

From the day he was drafted by the Cubs, Shaw has not been shy about his desire to move fast through the system. The North Siders have held up their end, as well, pushing the 22-year-old prospect to Double-A Tennessee last year and extending him an invitation to Major League camp this spring. Shaw will also have a chance to showcase his abilities in the Spring Breakout prospect game against the White Sox on March 15.

Shaw was informed early on he was not competing for an Opening Day job, but was being given a chance to learn from the veterans around him and the MLB staff. Cubs manager Craig Counsell has also given Shaw a lot of playing time in the early going. Through 10 Cactus League games, the infielder has two doubles and a triple among his five hits, mixing in three walks and five RBIs.

“We're exposing Matt to a lot,” Counsell said. “One thing we've talked consistently about with Matt is, at some point, Matt's going to get sent down. He's going to have kind of a smaller group of instructors, and we've got to really focus on just that instruction over the next three months, because obviously the development -- like anybody when you're new -- is going to be a little faster and more. And the learning curve is going to be a little steeper at the beginning.

“But I think Matt, his experience in camp has been very good. We've been able to get him a ton of at-bats. We've been able to expose him to third base a little bit, which has been great.”

Counsell was asked how he balances the messaging to a young player who has plenty of development to go, but also has a drive to reach the Majors as fast as realistically possible.

“I don't know if the player should agree with me on it, right?” Counsell said with a chuckle. “I think that's fair. It's a disagreement we should have. He should be always pushing me. And then he should be trying to change our minds. That's the ‘knock the door down,’ you know? Just try to change our minds. That's kind of their job.

“And I think that's what the great players do. They make you go faster, because they just keep proving like, ‘Give me more. Give me another challenge.’”

Shaw said Counsell’s conversations have made his first Spring Training a fun challenge to navigate.

“Craig does an amazing job of making everything feel very comfortable,” Shaw said. “You can be yourself, so he can get to know the real you. And I think that makes it a lot easier come crunch time.”