Photo Credit: Kelly O'Connor

Photo Credit: Kelly O’Connor

Mike Napoli’s departure from the Red Sox wasn’t something that blind-sided fans in Boston, but trying to pin-point exactly who would succeed the 33-year old was something of an mind bender for fans and media alike

Following the trade that sent Napoli back to Texas in exchange for a player to be named later, the Red Sox thinness at first base was magnified. Sure the team could stick 2015 All-Star Brock Holt at first every day or promote the former Cardinals stalwart Allen Craig to fill the spot. Boston could have even experimented with Hanley Ramirez at first base. Instead, the team elected to promote unheralded prospect Travis Shaw from triple-A Pawtucket.

Shaw, a 9th round pick by Boston out of Kent State in 2011, has relished his opportunity with the Red Sox thus far, slashing .315/.356/.574 over his first 59 plate appearances. Twice this year, the 25-year old has enjoyed a two home run game, while also collecting 5 multi-hit games through his first 20 contests. Shaw’s early success at the dish has been thanks in large part to an advance approach, which has subsequently resulted in 6/4 K/BB.

Defense has been another feather in Shaw’s cap, not just during his brief stint in Boston, but through most of his minor league career as well. Touted by as having “a strong arm and soft hands”, the Ohio native has shown the ability to play both his native first base as well as third. In the end, Shaw projects to stick better at first thanks to his size, which puts him in the realm of possible first basemen of the future.

Like most all prospects, however, Shaw does carry his share of question marks.

As pitchers gain more intel on the major league newcomer, Shaw will need to make the necessary offensive adjustments. We’ve seen this hurdle trip up countless prospects over the years. Will Middlebrooks, for example, was a hitting machine through his first trip to the majors, but once the book grew on the former-Red Sox third baseman, his success at the plate dwindled. The good news with Shaw, though, is that he has already shown himself to be a patient hitter, and has done a good job of shrinking the gap between strike out and walk totals.

Another large barrier in Shaw’s way is power. Shaw has never been a big bopper at the plate and isn’t one to garner high RBI totals. Both of those things — power and run production — come with the territory at first base. Mike Naopli’s first season in Boston was a terrific example of what a major league clubs expect at first base. Napoli hit at just a .259 clip and struck out 187 times, but collected 38 doubles, 23 bombs and 92 RBI. The highest home run total that Travis Shaw has ever posted was 16 and have averaged in the mid-50’s in RBI over his minor league career. While Shaw vs. Napoli isn’t the most fair battle, comparing the two isn’t the goal here, rather putting expectation against projection.

First base, along with other things, is a problem in Boston. And looking at this coming winter’s free agent market, while also gauging the trade market, the problem doesn’t offer a sure-fire answer right now. But Travis Shaw’s short time with the Red Sox has undoubtedly given us some food for thought.

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