FORT MYERS, Fla. — Good thing the Portland Sea Dogs did not install their new, improved video board at Hadlock Field last year.
That is all Travis Shaw would have needed, to see his 2013 statistics highlighted in bigger, brighter numbers.
Shaw slumped badly with the Sea Dogs, batting .221. And Hadlock Field, like any other professional baseball venue, displayed the batting statistics of every batter when he came to the plate.
“Looking up at the scoreboard every day and seeing those numbers,” Shaw said. “You try not to do it. But it’s impossible to ignore when they keep flashing them at you every single day.”
But if Shaw, 23, was so bad, what was he doing at the Red Sox Rookie Development Camp for advanced prospects last January? And why invite him to major league spring training camp this year?
Two reasons: Arizona and potential.
After the 2013 season, the Red Sox sent Shaw to the Arizona Fall League, which is usually for a team’s promising prospects. Shaw batted .361 in 17 games, with a .452 on-base percentage and a .705 slugging percentage (with six doubles and five home runs). It’s a small sample, but the 1.157 OPS gets your attention.
Those are the kind of statistics Shaw likes to see.
“We don’t look at the Portland numbers anymore,” he joked.
Shaw, a ninth-round draft pick out of Kent State in 2011, showed his potential in 2012 when he began the year in Class A Salem, batting .305 (.957 OPS) in 99 games. He was promoted to Portland and took time adjusting to Double-A, batting .227 (.781 OPS) in 31 games.
But Shaw was on the radar and, with Adrian Gonzalez traded to the Dodgers, Shaw was no longer blocked from reaching first base at Fenway Park in the future.
Shaw came into 2013 hoping to impress. He could field well. He could get on base with a disciplined plate approach.
Another way to turn heads would be to hit with power. He had hit 19 home runs (16 in Salem) in 2012. More blasts would look good on the resume.
But he started 2013 with little oomph â€¦ and the problems began.
“The main thing for me was the power numbers weren’t there in April,” Shaw said. “I tried to create that, tried to add more (power).”
Instead of spraying the ball all over the field, Shaw tried to pull the ball to right field with power.
“As soon as I did that, my approach was gone,” he said. “My strengths were gone. What I do well was gone. And I could never get back to it.”
It was not like Shaw could call time out and escape for two weeks to clear his head. He tried to re-adjust, but it was if he was stuck in a rut. He tried too hard, wanting desperately to change those numbers on the scoreboard.
“All year, I fought it and I fought it. It wasn’t there,” he said.
The year was not a total disaster. He still drew 78 walks and featured a .342 on-base percentage. And he did hit 16 home runs.
“It was certainly a challenging year for Travis,” Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett said. “But some things we saw him do pretty consistently. He did hit for power and he controlled the strike zone. Those factors translated into (an invitation to) Arizona.
“There, we saw a more consistent approach.”
Shaw had a month between the end of the Sea Dogs season and the start of the Arizona Fall League. He hung up the bat for two weeks, and then went to work, joining his father, former major league pitcher Jeff Shaw.
“A lot of tee work. Just getting back to the basics. It felt really good,” Travis Shaw said. “Me and my father got back to what I do well. What he said — which is what every single coach here was telling me — was to get back to hitting the ball the other way.
“I became very consistent at it for two weeks. And I carried that with me to Arizona.”
Shaw, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, learned he did not have to force the power. It will come. Half of his 22 hits in Arizona were for extra bases.
And if there is one thing the Red Sox like more than seeing their prospects succeed, it is seeing them fail and adjusting and then succeeding.
“A year of growth,” Crockett called it. “Taking what he learned in a tough Double-A season and taking a step forward was very good to see.”
Shaw seems on his way. A promotion to Pawtucket would appear likely sometime this season. But first he has to put up some big, bright and attractive numbers on the new Hadlock board.