Richie Shaffer Joins ‘From Phenom To The Farm:’ Episode 9

Image credit: Richie Shaffer (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam)

“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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When Richie Shaffer wrapped up his first full professional season in 2013, spent entirely with High-A Charlotte in the Florida State League, the third baseman finished with a less than inspiring .254/.308/.399 line. Not exactly what the Rays had hoped for from the 22-year-old Clemson product that they’d taken in the 1st round a year prior, but also not uncommon for a guy that was skipping a level and heading to a tough league for hitters, to struggle with the adjustment. 

Except when it came to baseball, Shaffer had never struggled. He didn’t take it well.

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“That’s how that league works in terms of offensive production just being squelched a little bit,” Shaffer said. “But in my mind, I wasn’t hitting .400 and having an 1.000 on-base-percentage … I wasn’t dominating like I was used to, so in my mind, I was awful.”

Since his amateur days, Shaffer’s career trajectory has mainly hinged on two attributes for better or worse: his bat and his confidence. Until that season in Charlotte, neither was an issue.

During Shaffer’s time at Providence (NC) High School, reactions from both peers and elders gave him every reason to be supremely confident in his abilities and seemingly guaranteed future success. A majority of his high school games were spent getting the 2004 Barry Bonds treatment; it was apparent to both Shaffer and the scouts attending his games that he wouldn’t be challenged in the box until he moved on from high school.

Those scouts were as much of a driving force behind Shaffer’s belief in his skills as anything he could do on the field. College coaches and pro scouts had made it clear that Shaffer was someone they wanted to invest scholarship or bonus money in from as early on as his sophomore year in high school.

Make no mistake, Shaffer backed up those coaches and scouts’ opinions of him with his performance on-field; it takes more than just belief in yourself and some moxie to elicit the kind of attention he was getting from the professional ranks before the 2009 draft.

Despite surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in March of his senior season, Shaffer had plenty of suitors looking to buy him out of his Clemson commitment with first round bonus money. When the draft began, Shaffer had multiple seven-figure offers on the table. He turned them down and slid to the Dodgers in the 25th round.

Shaffer knew the money would be there in three years, because he had no reason to doubt that he’d succeed at Clemson.

“That’s just the nature of the beast; you’re 15-16 years old and you have the whole world telling you you’re awesome and that you’re going to play in the big leagues for twenty years, you tend to not have any other sense of perspective” said Shaffer.

Once on campus, it was more of the same. Any chance of letting the pressure of being a highly touted recruit get to him didn’t even cross Shaffer’s mind.

Aside from a few injuries sustained during his freshman campaign, Shaffer cruised at the plate during his time at Clemson.  He was a two-time First Team All-ACC selection; an offensive force who thrived despite hitting in college baseball’s dead-ball era (new BBCOR-certified bats, and higher seam balls than are used in present-day competition) during his sophomore and junior years.

Three years after turning down first-round bonus offers, Shaffer was once again a first-round prospect. Per his 2012 BA Draft Report:

“From a lean, 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, Shaffer has big-time power that hasn’t been affected by college baseball’s less-potent bats. He also hits for average, succeeding even against premium velocity, and can use the whole field.”

The Rays took Shaffer with the 25th overall pick, and sent him to short-season Hudson Valley, where he promptly slashed .308/.406/.487 while leading the club to a league title. The confidence in his career trajectory was at an all-time high for Shaffer.

Then he reported to High-A Charlotte.

In the latest episode of From Phenom to the Farm, Richie Shaffer joins to discuss the transition from being a touted recruit and first-round pick to a guy trying to find his confidence in the minors. He’ll talk high points like playing in the College World Series, the Futures Game, and in the big leagues, as well as nightmare off-seasons and struggling to find his swing.

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