How Chicago Cubs top pick Matt Shaw was helped by the Cape Cod League and a former Red Sox World Series champ

18 July 2023

Any time Jarrod Saltalamacchia had someone inquire in the offseason about one of the top collegiate players in the 2023 draft, Matt Shaw, the former big-leaguer told them all the same thing.

“Listen, he checks every box,” Saltalamacchia would say. “If you pass on this kid, this guy is for sure one of those no doubt going to get to the big leagues, going to have success, he’s going to be a dynamic player.”

Saltalamacchia had seen firsthand how impactful Shaw can be when he served as the assistant coach on Shaw’s Cape Cod League team, the Bourne Braves, last summer where the now 21-year-old shortstop took the next step in his development en route to becoming the Chicago Cubs’ first-round pick last week.

“He’s just an unbelievable kid,” Saltalamacchia told the Tribune. “He can play all the positions. He’s a great teammate and he’s always working with other guys. It’s a kid you definitely want in your organization for cultural purposes as well.”

Saltalamacchia became an invaluable resource for Shaw, who credited the 2013 World Series champion with the Red Sox for helping him refine his approach at the plate. Instead of continuing to hunt for offspeed stuff, Saltalamacchia and Shaw often discussed what types of pitches to sit on and how other variables — the count, game situation or even the type of pitcher — influences those decisions.

The regular conversations between the two had a lasting influence on Shaw.

“I mean, if you’re not the type of player that’s going to learn and take feedback, you’re not going to last in baseball very long,” Shaw said Monday at Wrigley Field. “Regardless of where you are in college, summer ball, minor leagues, major leagues, I’m sure that every single person here on the field today has learned from somebody, getting feedback and figuring it out as they go.

“You get to talk to someone who knows the game and has been around the game and that’s kind of all you’re really looking for as a baseball player is to talk to someone who loves talking about baseball, who knows baseball. Being able to talk to Jarrod, develop a friendship has been really unique and really cool.”

Saltalamacchia said Shaw had the right thought process and noted there are times when sitting on soft pitches can be beneficial. But Saltalamacchia, whose catching career spanned 12 years in the majors, noticed Shaw would be looking for those pitches in situations that didn’t call for offspeed.

“Everything’s off a fastball approach,” Saltalamacchia said. “I mean, you get to the big leagues because you can hit a fastball. Now you take that fastball-to-the-gap approach and you’re fooled and you’re a little off balance and your hands are still back because you’re thinking fastball, you can see it and you’re still able to drive the ball the other way or pull it down the line.

“What he does extremely well is he stays through the ball better than anyone I’ve seen at this level with a wood bat and he gets backspin. … So I knew he was capable of making that adjustment, having that approach of right-center. Hitters get in trouble when they recognize (offspeed) but they go in and out of the zone really quick and they roll over it and pull off. He was never that guy.”

Bourne manager Scott Landers thought Shaw’s at-bats continued to get better as the Cape Cod season progressed, seeing the shortstop understand and realize how his approach needed to adjust depending on the situation.

The change to how Shaw attacked his at-bats didn’t hurt his power. He became a better all-around hitter and during his senior year at Maryland produced a 20-20 season over the 62-game schedule, finishing with 20 doubles, 24 home runs and a 1.142 OPS.

“I mean, you don’t expect it out of his frame,” Landers said to the Tribune of the 5-foot-11 Shaw. “It does look like it comes easy to him. It’s a violent swing.”

Landers called Shaw a “Dustin Pedroia type” with power that plays to all fields. Saltalamacchia spent three-plus seasons with Pedroia in Boston and believes Shaw possesses more raw pop than the 2008 American League MVP, who also happened to be Shaw’s favorite player growing up as a Red Sox fan in Massachusetts.

“There’s definitely a good comparison there,” Saltalamacchia said. “(Pedroia) took advantage of his surroundings and never took a day off mentally. Every single day he was ready to go. I mean, pitchers in and out, he knew the other hitters in and out to where he was able to position himself. I think that’s where Matt needs to grow on the defensive side of things and being more of a complete player.

“But I know he’s also the type of kid that someone tells me he can’t do something, he’s going to prove them wrong.”

Shaw’s bat-to-ball skills and hitter profile could have him on a fast track to Wrigley, where he visited for the first time Monday as his signing became official. He knows the timing of his big-league arrival isn’t his decision. Shaw’s performance will dictate when he puts on the pinstripes, however, he isn’t worried about any struggles he might face on his journey.

Shaw keeps the concept of failure in perspective in a sport where even the best, like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, record an out in approximately 65% of their plate appearances.

“For me, obviously there’s a lot of different pressures that I don’t understand yet when it comes to the fans and the community and everything that I’ll eventually learn,” Shaw said. “But when it comes to baseball itself, people are failing a lot more in the big leagues than they are in college. So for me, it’s a great opportunity to go and fail and see what you can make of it.”


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