SCOTTSDALE — Like every player at Triple-A, Chris Shaw hoped to be greeted by the general manager when his minor league season was over. But he was hoping that meeting would take place in San Francisco, not Sacramento.
Shaw led the organization in home runs last season with 24 across two levels, but he wasn’t on the list for a September call-up, even though the big league team was finishing off a disappointing season that lacked any semblance of buzz down the stretch. The front office was hesitant to promote Shaw, one of the system’s top prospects, because he doesn’t have to be placed on the 40-man roster until after this season and team officials knew roster spots would be valuable as they tried to reshape the big league team.
But there was an on-field reason, too, and Bobby Evans always pointed to Shaw’s lack of experience in left field when asked about roster moves. It was a message that Evans gave Shaw in person when they met after a season in which the lefty slugger had a .871 OPS, with 35 doubles to go with those homers.
“He told me, ‘I think you could help the lineup this year, but we don’t want to rush you defensively.’ I understand that,” Shaw said. “Obviously it’s a little tough to hear when you put yourself in a spot to be up there, but I don’t want to be a guy who goes up and comes right down because my defense is not up to snuff.”
To quiet any doubts the big league staff might have, Shaw has done more than just work on the fundamentals of left field. He lost 15 pounds in the offseason to try and become lighter on his feet in left field. The transformation was not something that the front office or training staff told Shaw to do. It was something he felt was necessary, though.
“In my mind, it was how can I stay lighter on my feet and be quicker. I talked to the Giants (coaches and front office people) and they said I get good reads out there, but it’s just that first step that’s lacking a little quickness,” he said. “I thought that if I get leaner that the first step quickness would come on its own.
To drop the weight, Shaw — who was listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds last season — tried a modified paleo diet. It wasn’t as strict as the one Hunter Pence famously embraced in past years, but Shaw still stuck to healthier food for most of an offseason spent training in Boston.
“But obviously there were days I would go crush a pizza,” he said, laughing.
Shaw’s physique has never been an issue for the Giants. He was physically imposing the day he visited AT&T Park after being drafted 31st overall in 2015. He likes what he’s seen from the offseason changes, though.
“My swing feels the same and the power is the same, but the outfield stuff is where I feel different this spring,” he said. “I feel lighter on my feet and I have more energy in games.”
In his second big league camp, Shaw has been working with the big league outfielders in the morning and soaking in advice from a group of veterans. He already has implemented one tip from Hunter Pence about pre-pitch preparation, and the work — both on the field and in the offseason — has been noticed. Bench coach Hensley Meulens now works with the outfielders, and he said Triple-A manager Dave Brundage and hitting coach Damon Minor have already mentioned that they’ve seen a difference in Shaw’s defensive ability.
“They said he’s definitely improved the way he’s moving in the outfield,” Meulens said. “He sees the writing on the wall."