Matt Shaw, a 21-year-old shortstop out of the University of Maryland, met with 20 different teams during the Major League Baseball Draft Combine last month. Those teams grilled him on anything and everything, as any team doing their due diligence would.
Throughout the process, Shaw said, the Cubs stood out as a team he wanted to join. And with the 13th-overall pick, the Cubs made Shaw their first-round selection in the 2023 MLB Draft.
“I think the Cubs were a team that I really, really wanted to go play for,” Shaw said via Zoom on Sunday. “My reaction was really just excited. Really glad that it worked out the way that it did. Going through all the different teams, and I’m like, ‘You know, Chicago would be a great fit.’ It worked out great. I’m just really happy.”
“When you start to double back and talk to, whether it’s his strength coach or his hitting coach or somebody from high school that’s worked with him, the one thing that just was a constant theme was how diligent of a worker he is,” Cubs vice president of scouting Dan Kantrovitz said. “The superlatives were just being thrown around left and right, in terms of just how hard Matt works. You combine that work ethic with somebody that’s already got a pretty impressive level of a performance resume under his belt, it ends up being something that’s pretty appealing to us.”
Shaw just completed his junior season with the Terrapins. In 62 games, Shaw slashed .341/.445/.697, hit 24 homers and drove in 69 runs. He also walked 43 times, and he struck out just 42 times. In 167 games across three seasons at Maryland, Shaw hit .320 with a 1.036 OPS, 53 home runs and 166 RBIs.
As far as accolades go, this year, Shaw won the Brooks Wallace Award — which honors the nation’s most outstanding shortstop — was named a Gold Spikes Award semifinalist, was a consensus first-team All-American and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year while leading the Terrapins to the Big Ten title. And throughout his college career, Shaw was a first-team All-Big Ten selection twice (as a sophomore and junior) and was named to the Big Ten all-freshman team in 2021.
Also, last summer, Shaw was named the Cape Cod Summer Player of the Year after slashing .360/.432/.574 with five homers and 19 RBI in 36 games, helping the Bourne Braves to the Cape Cod League championship.
According to the Telegram & Gazette, when he committed to Maryland before his junior year at Worcester Academy, Northeastern was his only other Division I offer. So, how did he go from an under-recruited player to enough college success to make him the 13th-overall pick?
“Just small steps,” Shaw said. “Just small steps forward, always staying consistent. It’s a long process, and for me, just staying consistent every day from 6 years ago to now is the reason [why I am] where I am today. There’s no big jump, all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Whoa, I can play baseball now.’ It’s like, OK, there’s little things that I can get better at, and you know what, here I am.”
Area scout Billy Swoope recommended Shaw, who was the No. 16 ranked draft prospect by MLB Pipeline. He’s the highest draft pick in Maryland baseball history.
Here’s why the Cubs felt confident in making him their pick, in Kantrovitz’s words:
I think the first thing that stands out is something the scouts were raving about for the last few years: It’s just a dynamic bat. I think it really took center stage probably last summer in the Cape, when he displayed just the decision making that he’s capable of, the ability to make consistent contact and the ability to hit for damage. Typically, when you exhibit those three characteristics, it’s a pretty good recipe for success in the future.
And then, he’s just a really exceptional athlete, a motivated, driven kid that’s made improvements defensively over the years that we’ve been tracking. We feel like, ultimately, he’s going to be somebody that’s pretty versatile defensively. Whether it’s short, whether it’s third, whether it’s second, I think he’s going to be probably capable of playing multiple positions in the future. Just that versatility combined with potentially a special bat is what motivated us to select them with our first pick tonight.
The Cubs picked Shaw just one spot ahead of the Red Sox, the favorite team of the Brimfield, Mass., native growing up. Shaw said he’s never been to Wrigley Field, but having been a fan of a team with its own historic ballpark, he’s excited at the prospect of one day playing in the Friendly Confines.
“Fenway is historical, Wrigley is historical, so I know what it feels like to be at a historical park,” Shaw said. “The fans are there, they love it. They’re fans that understand what it is to be a fan, you know? And so, playing at Wrigley, I’m sure it’s the same exact vibe, and that’s something that growing up being a Red Sox fan is unbeatable. You don’t get it in any other parks.”
Recent history shows it may not be that long before Shaw gets to experience playing at Wrigley.
He said he’s “vaguely” aware of how quickly the Cubs have moved college hitters they selected in the first round through the system in the last decade. Between 2013-18, the Cubs took four college hitters in the first round. All four debuted within the next two years:
- They took Kris Bryant second overall in 2013. He debuted on April 17, 2015
- They took Kyle Schwarber fourth overall in 2014. He debuted on June 16, 2015
- They took Ian Happ ninth overall in 2015. He debuted on May 13, 2017
- They took Nico Hoerner 24th overall in 2018. He debuted on Sept. 9, 2019
What that means for Shaw of course depends on his own performance and development. But the Cubs clearly have a record of being aggressive with polished college hitters.
No, they won’t commit to an aggressive plan for Shaw. Kantrovitz said it would be “premature” to think about that at this point, and he made sure to point out that they still have to go through the signing process (including the physical). But that won’t stop Shaw from trying to push his way up the system when he gets started with pro ball.
“That’s something that I look forward to, for sure,” Shaw said. “I want to move as fast as possible. I think someone who comes to mind is [Angels shortstop] Zach Neto. Kind of made a really good jump, moving up quick and showing people that, hey, give them the opportunity. Young kids, college hitters. They’ve been through it. I think they can make their name in the big leagues.”
Still, potentially standing in his way are a couple of players already locking down the middle infield spots: Hoerner at second base and Dansby Swanson — who Shaw said had already reached out to congratulate him — at shortstop.
However, that doesn’t appear to affect his mindset. When asked where else he’s comfortable playing, Shaw said he can play “short, second, third, left, center, right” and maybe even first base — though, at 5-foot-11, he did admit that “I think I’m a bit short for first.”
Whatever the future holds for Shaw as far as his position goes, he’s confident he’ll make it work. And considering they used their first-round pick on him, the Cubs are clearly confident in that, too.
“Wherever I end up is wherever I end up,” Shaw said. “My goal is to play in the big leagues and be really good there, so whatever happens, for whatever my path is to get there, I’m going to do the best I can to make that the right path.”
Cubs take Jaxon Wiggins with No. 68 pick (compensation round)
When Willson Contreras signed with the Cardinals this offseason, because the Cubs extended him a qualifying offer, they received a compensatory draft pick. And with that pick, they selected Wiggins, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Arkansas.
The 21-year-old Wiggins missed the 2023 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. According to MLB Pipeline, when healthy, he sat 94-97 mph with his fastball (peaking at 99 mph), featured a mid-80s slider and a mid-80s changeup and “toyed” with an upper-70s curveball. In his first two college seasons (2021-22) with the Razorbacks, Wiggins was 9-4 with a 6.17 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 89 innings.
“It’s not something that we shy away from when a pitcher is recovering [from Tommy John surgery],” Kantrovitz said. “We do want to make sure that we’ve reviewed the surgery notes, that our team doctors have looked at that ahead of time, that we’re familiar with where he is in the rehab and the recovery process and that he’s on track, which we are confident of that at this point. I don’t think you ever want to really view an injury that keeps somebody out a year as a positive, but we do think he’s sort of on an upward trajectory and should be fully healthy next year.”