Rays' Shaffer Adjusts To Life On Taxi Squad
Richie Shaffer came into the Arizona Fall League season with just 33 games of professional experience, all at the short-season level, unusual for a league in which most players have already made it to Double-A. But it's not the caliber of talent in the league that's affecting the Clemson product's adjustment.
Instead, the 21-year-old Shaffer is struggling with the fact that as a member of the Phoenix Desert Dogs' taxi squad, his playing time in games is pretty limited.
"It's been more of a challenge only playing two days a week and trying to keep my mentality right and keep my timing level," the 2012 first-round pick said. "That's been more of a challenge than the competition level."
With his playing time limited, Shaffer is just 9-for-41 (.220) with three doubles, a triple and 17 strikeouts with a week left in the AFL season. Shaffer said he's trying to stay in rhythm by getting to the field early and making sure to get his work in every day.
"The staff here's been doing a good job getting me reps and keeping me sharp for when I do get in there," Shaffer said.
Shaffer's offense is definitely ahead of his defense at both corner infield spots, so he's using the extra time to improve his glovework with Jim Hoff, Tampa Bay's infield coordinator. He's primarily been working on his pre-pitch routine, learning how to get into situations to make quick reactions to balls, and also bettering his throwing mechanics by working to improve his footwork.
While Shaffer was drafted as a third baseman and that's the position he likes the best, where he ultimately winds up on the diamond is still to be determined. He played his first two seasons at Clemson at first base before moving across the infield to third for his third and final year, and was the first player in school history to be named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference at two different infield positions.
There's also the matter of Evan Longoria, the Rays' current third baseman and a face of the franchise. That position is not likely to be available to Shaffer for quite some time.
He's been splitting time between third and first in the AFL, and even got into one game last week in left field, a new position. Moving around the field doesn't bother Shaffer at all.
"Defensively, I think I'm a good defender and I'm very versatile," Shaffer said. "I can play a bunch of different positions. I think that brings a lot of value to clubs, especially the Rays who like to move guys around and mix things up."
Regardless of where he plays, it's going to be the bat that gets Shaffer to the big leagues. One National League scout covering the AFL agreed. "Defense is going to be a question, (but) he was one of the true power bats coming out in the draft this past year," the scout said. "It's going to take a little time, but the tools are there."
Shaffer hit a combined .325/.449/.562 with 30 home runs in 612 at-bats in his three years at Clemson, and followed that with a .308/.406/.487 line in his pro debut with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League.
It's obvious how much he enjoys hitting. Ask him about his approach at the plate and Shaffer lights up, talking with the expertise and enthusiasm of a veteran hitting coach.
"I'm a guy who can drive the ball in the gaps and be a run producer," Shaffer said, "but at the same time I'm usually a guy who gets on base a lot . . . I usually have a high on-base percentage and I've got a good feel for the strike zone and pitch recognition. Those are the things that help me get in deep counts and into situations where I can be successful, getting in positive 2-0 or 3-1 counts."
Tampa Bay's minor league hitting coordinator Steve Livesey is working with Shaffer as one of this year's Desert Dogs hitting coaches, and he also sees a good hitter in the making but with the normal necessary improvement.
"He's obviously got real good raw power," Livesey said. "I think he's got a chance to hit for average and power. He's shown us the ability to drive the ball to all fields, which is a good strength. Like all young kids, pitch selection is obviously going to have to get better as he goes up, and that's to be expected being his age. He's going to chase some balls out of the zone. That'll have to get better as he goes up."
Shaffer also has a good handle on what he needs to do to continue to improve—consistency.
"The guys who can be consistent the most are the guys that are going to advance," Shaffer said. "Everyone out here is extremely talented and whether or not they make it or stay in the major leagues is a factor of, can they be consistent day in and day out throughout a professional season with their mentality, with their physical traits and their body."
While he hasn't spent much time in pro ball, Shaffer was already familiar with quite a few of his AFL teammates and opponents from his time in 2007 with USA Baseball's 16-and-under national team. Matt Davidson (Diamondbacks), Nick Franklin (Mariners), Randal Grichuk (Angels) and Max Stassi (Athletics) are also alumni of that team who are currently on AFL rosters. The big difference is that those four all went directly into pro ball out of high school and each have three or more seasons of professional experience under their belt.
But Shaffer doesn't believe that he's behind the others in his development with a resume of just 33 professional games.
"Everyone has their own individual progressions," Shaffer said. "I don't necessarily know if it matters as much if you went to college or if you went out of high school. I think everyone's going to develop at their own pace . . . I can't say that I was at a disadvantage or an advantage going to college. That was my own personal preference and that's what I wanted to do, and they chose to go out of high school."
"Since we're all here right now," Shaffer continued, "it shows that you're going to progress at your individual rate just depending on how hard you work and the people you're around."
• Rangers manager Ron Washington
was inducted into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame prior to the Friday night game at Surprise Stadium. Washington was one of the early AFL pioneers, serving as a hitting coach in 1992 and 1993, the league's first two seasons. He is the 32nd inductee into the Hall of Fame, and the number 14 he wore in 1993 will no longer be worn by any player on the Surprise Saguaro roster. Rangers farm director Tim Purpura
presented Washington with a plaque listing all 139 Texas organization players who have participated in the 21-year history of the Fall League.
• Lefthander Justin Marks
(Royals) became the first pitcher with five wins when the Surprise Saguaros defeated the home team Salt River Rafters, 5-4, on Thursday evening in a game marked by intermittent drizzle. The southpaw from Louisville, an Athletics third-round pick in 2009 acquired by the Royals in the David DeJesus trade, yielded only one run in four innings to lower his season ERA to 2.21.
• The AFL's 21st season will wrap up on Saturday when the East and West division winners square off in the annual championship game at Scottsdale Stadium. With four days remaining in the regular season, Salt River and Peoria both hold 1 ½-game leads in their respective divisions. The game will be televised live on the MLB Network beginning at 1:10 pm Mountain time.