In the Arizona Fall League, there are players designated as taxi-squad players who can only play in games on Wednesdays and Saturdays. That is important because one of the players that Rays fans are looking forward the most to seeing in the AFL is such a player: 2012 first round pick Richie Shaffer. Shaffer made his AFL debut Wednesday and gave a strong showing as part of a nice performance by all five Rays prospects who appeared for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in their extra-inning loss to the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Scottsdale Scorpions 6, Phoenix Desert Dogs 5 (11 innings)
The Desert Dogs fought hard, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to take a 5-3 lead, but key errors in the 9th and 11th were the difference as Scottsdale came away with the win. A solo shot by Brewers prospect Brock Kjeldgaard gave Phoenix a 1-0 lead in the 2nd, but Scottsdale got single runs in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th to take a 3-1 advantage. Pirates prospect Matt Curry drove in the first and third runs with a single and a double, and another run would have scored if Rays prospect Kevin Kiermaier didn’t deliver a strike from centerfield down to home plate to gun down Yankees prospect Slade Heathcott in the 3rd. In the 6th, the Desert Dogs finally found some more offense, with Tim Beckham walking and scoring on a double play ball before Shaffer singled and Kjeldgaard scored on a Heathcott error to tie the game at 3. After Rays prospect Kirby Yates tossed a perfect inning with 2 strikeouts in the bottom of the inning, Phoenix took the lead in the 7th. Kiermaier walked, stole 2nd and 3rd, and scored on a Beckham groundout to make it 4-3. And in the 9th, Kiermaier doubled and scored on a single by Brewers prospect Josh Prince to tack on a run heading to the bottom of the 9th. But things did not go nearly as planned for Athletics prospect Gary Daley, who came in to close the game. A pair of singles and a stolen base gave Scottsdale 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs when Heathcott hit a groundball fielded by Shaffer at first base. Shaffer flipped to Daley for what could have been the final out of the game, but Heathcott beat out the play with his great speed, scoring 1 run, and the ball got away from Daley, allowing the second run to score to tie the game at 5. Rays prospect Chris Rearick tossed the 10th inning for Phoenix and struck out 2 in a perfect frame. But in the 11th, an error by Braves prospect Edward Salcedo began the inning and the runner who reached, the Angels’ Randal Grichuk, moved to 2nd on a groundball and 3rd on a wild pitch before fellow Angels prospect Carlos Ramirez came through with a pinch-hit walk-off single to give the Scorpions a 6-5 victory.
Shaffer had himself a nice game, going 2 for 4 with a walk and a great diving play at first base. The Rays put Shaffer at third base in his pro debut at Short Season-A Hudson Valley, and his inexperience at first base showed at times in this game but he also made some nice plays. First base could also be where Shaffer ends up long-term so we may have gotten a tase of Shaffer’s future. Tim Beckham, starting at second base for Phoenix, went 0 for 4 but with 2 walks, an RBI, and a run scored. He also, unfortunately, made an error at second base and got picked off. Nice to see Beckham walking, but the rest of his day left much to be desired. Kiermaier actually went just 1 for 4 with a double and a walk in the game, but he made a major impact with 3 stolen bases, 2 runs scored, and his outfield assist in the third inning. The Rays love Kiermaier’s speed and defense, and he shows a solid bat with good plate discipline. On the pitching side, it was great to see Yates dominate, getting 2 strikeouts and a groundout in his inning of work, while Rearick took the loss in the game thanks to the Salcedo error but pitched fine, striking out 2 while walking none and allowing just 1 hit and the unearned run in 1.1 innings pitched. All in all, Rays prospects made a huge impact in this game for Phoenix and it was great to see Shaffer start off with a bang and Kiermaier running wild. It was a positive day and hopefully the start of a good run in the Arizona Fall League for these five prospects.