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Q&A with Cubs prospect Matt Shaw: Learning from Cubs vets, moving through the system and more

Ryan Herrera Avatar
March 8, 2024

A year ago at this time, Matt Shaw was playing college baseball games at Maryland, only a few days after getting back from the Cambria College Classic in Minneapolis.

We know how the rest of this story has gone: A few months later he was drafted 13-overall by the Cubs. Only two months after that, he was already playing in Double-A. And only a few months after that, he already earned his first invite to major league spring training, taking it all in with big leaguers all around him.

Regardless of being in the first round of spring roster cuts Friday, Shaw’s rapid rise has been eye-opening. He’s gone from getting drafted last summer to potentially being ready to make his MLB debut at some point this season. It seems the sky is the limit for the 22-year-old.

In a sit-down interview with CHGO at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz., Shaw discussed a variety of topics ranging from learning from guys like Dansby Swanson and Nico Hoerner to his goals for the 2024 season.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

We’re here at spring training (on Feb. 22), your first spring training with the Cubs. What has it been like for you so far?

I mean, everything you could ask for. We do a lot of team stuff right now, so just kind of working through that, but just good to be around the guys, start to make some friends, get to know my teammates. It definitely takes some time, but it’s good to be around them now. There’s a lot of new faces for me just being a little newer, so just really listening and kind of sitting in the background and seeing what I can pick up. Hopefully, as we enter spring training, start to kind of build some more relationships, get to know some guys a little more.

What’s it like being around the Cubs’ veterans? Being around them, getting to pick their brain, getting to see them work.

I mean, vets our vets. At the end of the day, the way a vet approaches his business and the way a young guy like me [approaches it], they know exactly who they are. They know exactly what they’re doing. So, [there’s] stuff that I’m still figuring out, stuff that is gonna take me some time going through it to figure out exactly who I am and what I need to do. They know themselves so well, and I think they have just that aura and that confidence about them from knowing themselves that you just know they’re veterans. They walk like one, they talk like one and they definitely play like one.

A year ago at this time, you’re playing baseball games at Maryland. Could you have imagined you’d be playing in Double-A by the end of the year?

I mean, I was sure hoping that I would be. Obviously, everything happens for a reason, and wherever I ended up, I ended up. I just wanted the opportunity to go play and have people that are willing to move you up. That’s not always the case, so for me, it was just go play and enjoy it, and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. So far, it’s been a dream come true.

When you got drafted, you talked about wanting to move up the system quickly if they were willing to move you up quickly. Going from rookie ball to High-A to Double-A in two months, what was it like to actually experience that?

Obviously, baseball-wise, baseball is always such a challenge such. It is what you bring to it, so a lot of preparation, obviously, going from different city, different place different pitchers, High-A, Double-A. You just get such a mix of everything you can possibly imagine as a hitter. But definitely, like, socially, getting to know so many guys in such a brief amount of time, it can be hard. It’s just like, there’s so many new faces. They grinded through that season together, so they have that bond, which I didn’t yet. Obviously a lot of really great guys that made it a lot easier for me, but I look forward to getting that whole year where I can get to know these guys, actually build some really strong relationships where I can look around the room and have my best friends and have all these guys that I know so well. I think that just helps you play better, too, because you just feel comfortable and you know you’re in it together. And I think that’s a big part of what I’m looking forward to in the season is having those relationships, whereas two different places in two months, it’s hard to build those relationships that fast.

Is there anything from when you joined the Cubs and got to understand their system that surprised you or stood out to you about how they run things?

Not really, no, honestly. It’s been pretty smooth sailing. I think they do a good job of being there if you need them and also not being there if you don’t, you know what I’m saying? There’s definitely a time and a place for coaching, and everybody needs it, but there’s also a time and a place to just play. I think that’s an important part of professional baseball coaching is letting people do their thing, letting them figure out who they are, and then letting them kind of transition that onto the baseball field.

One of the things that helped you move up quickly was how well you hit. What was it like facing minor league pitching, maybe a step up from college?

It’s great. I mean, that’s all you can ask for. Seeing more pitches, seeing more pitchers, seeing different arm slots, seeing more cutters. There’s a lot you learn, but you learn quick. You see it, you start to develop a plan and you start to kind of put guys in categories of how I want to attack this guy when I’m hitting, and things start to settle down, they start to make a little more sense. You don’t have to dig so deep into preparation. You can say, ‘OK, I know the type of ball this guy’s throwing, and I know what I have to do with that. Great.’ It’s not overcomplicated, and you can just go and run off your plan.

You told us at the Cubs Convention maybe 99 percent of your offseason reps were at third base. What went into the decision to do that?

Honestly, third is definitely one of the positions I’ve played the least, so that was important. But for me, it’s being able to play every position, become extremely comfortable at third. You just want to be prepared for [when] that day comes when your name is called and you know you’re completely confident in your abilities in all the positions in the infield. So, taking a lot of reps at third has been awesome. It’s taught me a lot about playing second and a lot about playing short as well, so I’m just kind of really happy how it all worked out.

When you look at second and short, obviously, Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson are kind of locked in for the Cubs right now. But what have you learned from being around those two guys?

Let me come back to you with that after spring training, I’ll give you a better answer. You learn so much and you just kind of watch and you start to kind of mimic a little bit of what they do. But that takes time to really get to know them and why they click. Like, what makes them do everything? Very great routines and very consistent, which is awesome, but you want to figure out the deeper stuff, the more important stuff, you know? What has made them so successful. Being consistent, that’s great, and they are such consistent human beings and it’s phenomenal. But over a long period of time, you know, Dansby being so many years in the league and Nico being so successful on defense and offense, what is that all about? What is he thinking at the plate? What is he thinking in the field? How he goes about his business off the field, too. All that stuff is very interesting and stuff that takes time to kind of know the player.

There’s a chance that you can make your major league debut this season. Have you had any conversations with the front office or coaches about the possibilities ahead of you?

People ask that question a lot about the front office thing, and you really don’t have many conversations with the front office. I don’t know, maybe Dansby and Nico do, but they’re not coming and saying, ‘Hey, Matt, you might make you big league debut this year.’ It’s more just being prepared, doing everything you can do, so when that moment comes, you’re ready. If it’s this year, if it’s next year, whenever it may be, you just gotta be ready. Ready, I think, emotionally for everything that goes along with making your debut: The media, the fans, the environment. It’s such a big difference from the minor leagues, so I think just being kind of a consistent human being, so when you get to that moment, you can kind of calm your emotions and enjoy it.

We’re a couple weeks into spring training now. What are your goals moving forward, whether it’s for the rest of spring or for the season?

My goal is to enjoy it. My other goal is, no matter what happens, be able to let go and understand that it happens for a reason. I wouldn’t say I have any goals [of], ‘Oh, I need to make the big leagues in two weeks’ or ‘I need to hit 40 home runs’ or whatever. I think just a goal of being a good fiance to Danielle, my fiance; being a good friend; being a good family member. I think all that stuff kind of makes it a lot easier to say, hey, baseball, as much as I put my heart and soul into the game, it is just a game. So, being able to separate that so when I have a bad day, it doesn’t affect the rest of my day, and then that day doesn’t affect the next day. I think that my biggest goal is really just enjoying it, staying positive and figuring out how to grind through 140, 160 games.

One more for you: You’ve gotten to spend a little time in Chicago since you got drafted. Have you found any food spot you really love?

So, I actually didn’t get to eat this place in Chicago, but I got to eat it in Arizona. It’s Maple & Ash, the steakhouse. I absolutely loved the steak in Arizona, and I’m sure that if I went to Chicago, I’d have a very similar experience. But I haven’t gotten the chance to go out and about that much, so that would have to be my answer.

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