Richie Shaffer won’t be displacing Evan Longoria any time soon. That doesn’t mean the 21-year-old Tampa Bay Rays third base prospect doesn’t have a promising future. Drafted 25th overall last year out of Clemson, Shaffer projects to bash his way to Tropicana Field.
Shaffer talked about his game when the short-season Hudson Valley Renegades visited Boston to play in the Futures at Fenway doubleheader.
David Laurila: How have you been approaching your first professional season?
Richie Shaffer: I’ve been going out there and being myself. I’m playing baseball and doing the best I can, trying not to over-think things. I’m letting the work I do before games translate into production during the games. That’s the key. You want to be consistent. Basically, I’m trying to get the feel for what professional baseball is all about.
DL: Are there specific things you need to focus on?
RS: There are things I want to key on, both strengths and weaknesses. I want to do improve my game and make myself more well-rounded. I’m constantly working on my footwork at third. I’m constantly trying to keep my swing where it needs to be. I’m working on my pitch recognition and plate discipline. I’m thinking about my approach and driving the ball the other way. All of those things, because I want to be a complete, well-rounded baseball player.
DL: Have you seen scouting reports — in Baseball America or elsewhere — that you don’t fully agree with?
RS: You have to stay off those things. As a player, you just go to work every day. People have opinions, whichever way, and it’s for them to decide what they think you’re good at and what you’re not good at. Personally, I’m confident with what I do and the way I work. I know it’s a cliché, but I’m just trying to learn and get better. I make my own opinions about my game.
DL: How would you identify yourself as a hitter?
RS: I’m a hitter who has good power and can drive the ball all over the field. I have pretty good discipline. I started off the year with some strikeouts, but a lot of that was not having played for a month and a half. The more I play, the more I feel comfortable and am back into my rhythm.
I can be a bunch of different types hitters. If you need me to be someone who can get a base hit, just to drive a run in, I can do that. If we need me to hit a double in the gap, I can be that type of guy. I feel I’m a versatile hitter who is continuing to learn and grow.
DL: What are you looking for up at the plate?
RS: I try to play to my strengths, but if there’s a pitcher on the mound who is a specialty kind of guy — maybe he really likes his changeup… it all depends. They say good hitters make adjustments at bat to at bat, and great hitters make adjustments pitch to pitch. It’s an ongoing battle — an ongoing process — and you have to roll with the punches up at the plate. Every at bat, for me is different. In the end, I’m looking for something up in the zone that I can drive.
DL: Some players shy away from calling themselves power hitters. Are you accepting of that label?
RS: I don’t know why anyone would want to shy away from being called a power hitter. I don’t know if maybe that comes with negative connotations, but it’s not my only tool, if that’s how the term is being used. If people think you’re a one-tool player as a power hitter… that’s not what I am. I think I’m athletic and run pretty well for a bigger guy. I can go the other way.
I wouldn’t shy away from being called a power hitter, just because that’s my best tool. I have the capability of driving the ball out of the park, and that’s a skill not everyone has. I’ve been blessed with it and am going to try to maximize that talent as much as I can. It’s something that should help me get up to the next level.
DL: How do you view your defensive game?
RS: Like I said, I want to be considered a multi-tool player. I’m not just an offensive player. I take pride in my defense and how I work on my defense. I think I’m a good defender who is capable of becoming an excellent one. I want to a top-tier defender and that’s something that’s going to come with time and hard work.
I feel I’ve already gotten better with some of what they’re teaching me here. I hope to keep getting better and better, because I take a lot of pride in the way I go about working on my defense.
DL: Is your future at third base?
RS: That’s not my decision to make. I’m going to continue to work as hard as I can at third base to try to stay there. That’s where I want to be. But again, at the end of the day, it’s not my decision. It’s up to the organization, and if they decide to move me to first base, I’m going to work hard over there. I’m going to give my all, regardless of where I play.
Hudson Valley Renegades manager Jared Sandberg on Shaffer: “He’s a first-round pick and looks the part. I think he’s a third baseman. He’s got the arm and the glove. I think his feet could come around. As far as the bat, he could be a huge power bat for years to come. Power is usually the last tool to develop and he’s going to have even more than he does now. He sees the ball and has fairly decent strike-zone awareness. He has the ability to make adjustments and uses the whole field. He was a first-round pick for a reason.”