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Spring Training Notebooks

Spring Training Notebook: Cubs prospect Matt Shaw soaking in every experience

2 months agoAndy Martinez

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It had already been a memorable spring for Matt Shaw.

Friday made it truly special for him as he appeared in his first Cactus League game and doubled in his first at-bat.

“Yeah, oh my gosh, the walk and the stadium, the fans, I think that — I haven’t been to any others, but — it seems like the Cubs do it right and it’s so much fun,” Shaw said Saturday morning. “To be in that environment, it really, at least for me, it feels like a game, like a season game. Everyone’s so invested. It’s really cool.”

The 22-year-old started Saturday’s game against the Giants at second base, going 0-for-3 in the Cubs’ 8-4 win. Shaw was arguably one of the most intriguing non-roster invitees to Cubs camp this spring. He was drafted just over 7 months ago from Maryland and is taking practice drills and game at-bats against major leaguers.

“Definitely had time to reflect on it, but really just enjoying it while I’m here,” Shaw said. “Right now, just being able to really soak in it, really enjoy it and hopefully make some new friends and meet some people that hopefully you’re spending a lot of time with and becoming really, really close with.”

Shaw has impressed in his short professional career. He appeared in 3 games at the Arizona Complex League before bypassing Low-A and playing 20 games at High-A South Bend. The righty finished the season hitting .292 with 3 home runs and 6 stolen bases in 70 plate appearances at Double-A Tennessee.

His bat has never really been a question, but finding a defensive home is crucial if he’s to help the Cubs in 2024. In college, Shaw was primarily a shortstop. In pro ball, Shaw has moved around shortstop, second base and third base.

That versatility will be important for him as he pushes the upper levels of the minor leagues. Nico Hoerner, a fellow first-round pick by the Cubs, also moved around early in his career, playing shortstop, second, third and some outfield.

“A guy like Matt’s hopefully in a position where his bat is ready whenever that is and I just hope that him and other guys never have defense as the reason they’re not in the lineup,” Hoerner said. “If you have guys that can hit, you’re gonna want them in there. For him, playing second, short, third, maybe some outfield, who knows, that gives him the opportunity to be there and to help us win and to get him going.”

For now, Shaw will continue to watch Hoerner, Dansby Swanson and other veterans in camp and prepare for his 2024 season — wherever that may lead.

“Just mature approaches, just understanding the game, understanding themselves, what they need, all that stuff,” Shaw said. “I’m sure I got a lot to learn, so looking forward to the next few weeks, few months, whatever it may be.”

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Smyly’s spring debut

In an effort to recapture his form, Drew Smyly spent his offseason at Driveline Baseball in Scottsdale. He worked with the facility that has been instrumental in helping countless players before him and one of the big changes they did was adding a pair of new pitches to his repertoire — a slider and splitter.

Smyly has relied on three pitches over the last few years — a sinker, cutter and his signature curveball which has some arm-side run, making it a tricky pitch to hit. But part of his struggles last season came with difficulty in being able to get lefty hitters out. They hit .338 with a .981 OPS against him last year.

The slider, he hopes is the type of pitch that can help neutralize lefties. It’s a similar grip to his curveball, so that pitch is a little ahead of his splitter.

He was able to use both sparingly in Saturday’s game. He estimated that he threw “three splitters and maybe three or four sliders.”

“The game kind of dictates it,” Smyly said. “The 1st inning I really didn’t get too much of an opportunity because the count to every hitter. Then the 2nd inning, I was ahead and throwing strike 1 and it’s obviously easier to have like a chance to be like, ‘OK, I’m gonna throw this and it’s OK if it’s a ball or a wasted pitch. I can still come back and be in the middle of a count.”

Smyly’s goal is to continue to be able to implement them in games as spring goes on and have a better idea of how he can use both to attack hitters when games matter.

“It’s just something that you got to keep working on,” Smyly said. “The hitters are telling me the feedback.”

Next Up

The Cubs head back to Mesa, Ariz. on Sunday to host the Padres at 2 p.m. on Marquee Sports Network. Javier Assad will start for the Cubs in his Cactus League debut.

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