After Long Wait, Richie Shaffer's Time Finally Comes
In the Shaffer household in Charlotte on June 10, 2009, the second day of the major league draft came and went with little fanfare. Despite being one of the better amateur players in the draft, Providence High's heralded third baseman Richie Shaffer was not picked until the 25th round by the Dodgers. Where was Richie to celebrate the event that most young men dream about?
"I was actually playing video games, I wasn't expecting a whole lot," Shaffer said.
Entering his senior season, Shaffer was regarded as one of the more talented high school players in the country. Standing 6-foot-3 with a lean and wiry frame, Shaffer exhibited two strong carrying tools—his projectable raw power and above-average arm strength capable of firing 93 mph fastballs. But Shaffer broke his left hamate bone in December, and the injury sapped his ability to hit for power. Shaffer's senior season came and went as he only registered a few at-bats after his March surgery. Scouts still liked his potential, but hamate injuries typically take as long as a year to completely heal. Teams were unwilling to make a strong financial investment in a player without a track record after the injury, so the three-time all-state performer slipped in the draft as Shaffer's strong commitment to Clemson did not waver.
Shaffer headlined a strong recruiting class and performed immediately, hitting .323/.409/.525, helping the Tigers reach the College World Series.
After a power-laden sophomore season in which Shaffer clubbed 13 home runs, he spent the summer playing for Chatham in the Cape Cod League. Showcasing his power against the country's best college competition garnered Shaffer an invite to the Cape league's home run derby, and he smashed six home runs over Fenway Park's Green Monster and won the competition.
Although Shaffer's Cape performance turned heads because of his power, he made larger strides in other aspects of his game.
"In high school Shaffer was challenged by offspeed pitches and that continued throughout his first couple years at Clemson," a National League scout said. "Last summer is when he made the transition to not only being a power hitter but also a hitter."
Clemson had a logjam at Shaffer's natural position when he arrived, so he transitioned to first base, but he eagerly returned to the hot corner for the 2012.
"I spent a lot of time waiting for the opportunity to show people that I could play third base at this level and the next," he said.
While Shaffer's defensive position changed, his ability to punish opposing pitchers did not, as he set personal bests in every slash category and finished the regular season with a .344/.470/.590 average.
Shaffer's junior season built on his improvements in the Cape and he became a more complete hitter."Richie has improved his pitch recognition and has the mental maturity to take what teams are giving him," Clemson assistant coach Brad LeCroy added.
With his improved hitting ability, coupled with his power, Shaffer projects as an impact hitter at the next level. But the question looms, can Shaffer remain at third base or will he have to return to first?
"I take a lot of pride in my defense and I'm not going to allow myself to be pigeonholed as a one-tool player," Shaffer said. "I'm confident in my defensive abilities, work ethic, and ability to be more than an average third baseman."
Shaffer has plus arm strength and some scouts believe Shaffer's defense improved during his first season at third and he can remain at the position. Others are less optimistic.
"It's going to take quite a bit of work, he needs work on his lower-half agility and lateral quickness, but his hands work," the scout said.
The team that does draft Shaffer will get a determined and first-class individual who is willing to put in the necessary work, LeCroy said. "He works as hard as anybody out there and he wants to prove to people that he can stay at third base."