Chris Shelton Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 36
“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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Chris Shelton could always hit. He carried defensive limitations and offered little value on the basepaths, but could always hit.
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Growing up in Salt Lake City, his bat (and a leg injury) took him from being hockey player to primarily a baseball player, then led him to first to junior college baseball, and finally to the University of Utah. In his one year with the Utes, Shelton did what Shelton always did—he hit.
In his one season at Utah, Shelton led the team in OPS, doubles, and home runs, en-route to being named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. The Pirates made him their 33rd-round pick in the 2001 draft, and Shelton kept on hitting.
Shuffling between catcher, first base, and DH, he led the South Atlantic League in OPS in 2012 and the Carolina League in OPS the following season. Pittsburgh left him unprotected in the Major League phase of the December 2003 Rule 5 draft, and Shelton was subsequently selected No. 1 overall by the Tigers.
In the ensuring 2004 season, Shelton stopped hitting—and not by choice. It’s a longshot for a Rule 5 pick to stick on the big league roster, and while Shelton defied the odds by making the Tigers and sticking around, that first big league season came with a big trade off. Shelton only had 35 games of career experience above High-A, so much of that roster time was spent on the bench, totaling just 46 big league at-bats during the season.
“Offensively, that was one of the toughest years of my life,” said Shelton.
However, he made the most of that season riding pine. As previously noted, Shelton could always hit—it’s what made the Tigers want to stash him on the big league roster in the first place. Defense at catcher or first base had always been his weak spot. That 2004 season had a silver lining for Shelton.
“I could take groundball after groundball after groundball, and basically drive myself into the ground taking groundballs knowing I wasn’t going to play that night,” said Shelton. “I found myself getting better at first, I found myself getting better at repeating things, getting better at my footwork—if it wasn’t for that year I don’t know what my development at first base would’ve been like.”
The work paid off, as Shelton ended up winning regular playing time at first base during the following season with the Tigers, posting an .870 OPS over 107 games.
The 2005 season would ultimately wind up as Shelton’s best single-season in the big leagues, but served more as a precursor to his most notable moment in baseball—a torrid stretch in April 2006.
On today’s episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former big league first baseman Chris Shelton joins to discuss his journey through pro ball. He talks how junior college prepared him for pro ball, life on the roster as a Rule 5 pick, and spending a month as the hottest hitter in baseball.