Matt Shaw understands the value in defensive versatility.
It’s the same messaging second baseman Nico Hoerner delivered to Shaw and other 12 Chicago Cubs prospects while meeting with them during the organization’s annual development camp at Wrigley Field last week. Hoerner explained how much it helped that he was able to play multiple infield positions and in the outfield.
Hoerner’s perspective resonated with Shaw, the Cubs’ first-round pick last year.
“You look at guys like that, they’re in the organization that have been really successful, you’re like, OK, that makes sense, that’s the type of guy they want,” Shaw said last weekend at the Cubs Convention. “And so you want to be that guy.”
Shaw estimated that 99% of his defensive reps this offseason have been at third base. Only three of his 38 starts last year came at third, all with Double-A Tennessee near the end of the season.
“It’s just something I wanted to do,” Shaw said. “I did shortstop, obviously, the last couple of years and I haven’t been able to get a lot of reps at third. So now I was, like, might as well spend some time get used to the position and get comfortable there.”
With how the Cubs’ big-league roster is constructed, third base represents the clearest pathway to the majors for the 22-year-old Shaw, who crushed pitching after being drafted in June en route to reaching Double A on Aug. 30. One defensive question mark coming into the organization centered on his arm strength. Shaw agreed that he “absolutely” needs to continue working on it.
Defense and arm strength have been the focus of Shaw’s offseason work. Part of his routine has included throwing a football to build strength.
“You read stuff and what people don’t realize is that you got six, seven months in the offseason to work on these things so it’s just something you look forward to coming to spring training and the season is that you’ve had a lot of time to work on it,” Shaw said. “You just kind of slowly piece it together and get a little bit better. And over the long term, it makes a big difference so that’s something I’m really excited for this spring.”
Cade Horton ready to build off debut season
Horton isn’t a big goal setter.
The Cubs’ top pitching prospect prefers staying within the process and taking everything one day at a time.
“If I go and get better each and every day, then it’ll ultimately lead to where I want to be in the end,” Horton said.
The Cubs have not been afraid to aggressively promote prospects. Horton experienced that firsthand last year during his first season in professional baseball. He opened with Low-A Myrtle Beach, with whom he made four starts before earning a promotion to High-A South Bend. He posted a 3.83 ERA with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, prompting an early-August promotion to Tennessee. In four starts spanning 14 1/3 innings, Horton owned a 1.26 ERA and struck out 38.2% of the batters he faced.
The Cubs showed they were willing to give big starts to young talent when they called up lefty Jordan Wicks in September.
“You go out there and you just try to compete, and at the end of the day, promotions are out of your control,” Horton said. “So I like to focus on what I can control and that’s going out there, staying in my routine and going out there and competing.”
The 2023 season represented the first time Horton focused solely on pitching. He learned to develop a routine and how he wants his week to look between starts while continuing to develop his changeup and curveball.
Horton hasn’t talked to the front office yet about the opportunities that could be in front of him.
“There is a possibility out there, but also I have to go out there and perform and do what I do,” Horton said. “So there’ll be a time and place for that but nothing yet.”
Brennen Davis ‘super ready’ for a fresh start
Describing the last two years for Davis as challenging might be underselling what the organization’s former top prospect has endured.
Injuries have limited Davis, 24, to only 105 games at Triple-A Iowa the last two years, sidelined by back surgery in 2022 and a hernia/core-muscle procedure in 2023 that kept the outfielder out three months until mid August.
“I feel like we talked about this last year, but I’m super ready for a fresh start,” Davis said with a smile. “2024 is going to be a big year for me.”
Davis said his right side had been bothering him since 2021 when he had first complained about it. Then, when he went into surgery, his left side showed an old injury, likely from compensation. Ultimately both sides were repaired.
“It’s not ideal, but I was able to play through it for a good bit but never really felt quite 100%,” Davis said.
Davis spent the beginning of the offseason building back strength. Although it took time to get to a place where he physically felt comfortable, Davis said he’s well past that point with spring training one month away.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Davis said. “I need to handle my stuff. I know I’m a great player and everybody’s seen me perform. I just need to show everybody why they think so highly of me.”
As Davis works to regain his form, external projections have seen the 2021 Futures Game MVP fall down prospect rankings. Baseball America doesn’t have him in the Cubs’ top 10 preseason rankings after putting him at No. 2 this point last year, while MLB.com had Davis at No. 19 at the end of the season.
Davis isn’t worrying about outside perspectives.
“It’s all noise,” Davis said. “The goal has been the same goal since Day 1 — be a big-leaguer and be able to help the big-league club win. The rankings, I said it when I was at the top and I’ll say it now: It’s somebody’s opinion. It’s not who you are as a baseball player. It’s the value that you are bringing to the team based on how well you perform on the field.”