This offseason, the Rays made quite a few changes to their minor league coaching staffs. Most of those changes, though, only involved coaches moving from one Rays affiliate to another and just one new manager was hired: Danny Sheaffer, who will coach the Advanced Rookie Princeton Rays. Sheaffer may be a rookie in the Rays organization, but his experience in professional baseball will prove invaluable to the players he coaches and the Rays could not have found a better fit to mentor the players who will begin their professional careers at Princeton next season.
Sheaffer was the 20th overall pick by the Boston Red Sox in the 1981 January MLB Draft out of Harrisburg Area Community College as a well-regarded catching prospect and would make his pro debut at the Red Sox’ Short Season-A Elmira affiliate that season, managing a nice .288/.365/.455 line with 9 doubles, 8 homers, and 29 RBI in 62 games. He ranked second on the Pioneers in batting average and third in doubles and home runs, and as a 19 year old catcher, that was especially impressive. He was good enough that the Red Sox sent him up to Double-A Bristol for 8 emergency games as a backup catcher, although he went 0 for 12. Considering the Red Sox utilized the unimpressive platoon of rookie Rich Gedman (who finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting for no apparent reason, hitting .288 but in just 62 games) and third-year player Gary Allenson, Sheaffer had a chance to seize the Red Sox’ catching job in short order if he could continue playing well. But then things immediately got off track.
Sheaffer moved up to Low-A Winter Haven for 1982, but his strong performance could not keep up as he managed just a .250/.298/.323 line with 5 home runs in 82 games. Returning to Low-A at Boston’s Winston-Salem affiliate, Sheaffer rebounded to the tune of a .276/.337/.442 line with 14 doubles, 15 homers, and 63 RBI in 112 games in 1983. But that season proved to be only a brief reprieve from a series of struggles. Sheaffer managed just a .241/.302/.284 line in 93 games at Double-A New Britain in 1984 then only a moderately better .259/.311/.395 line with 8 home runs in 77 games at Triple-A Pawtucket in 1985. But in 1986, he improved to a .340 average with 16 doubles in 79 games at Pawtucket, and the following spring training, he caught fire and made the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster. He was 25 years old and had progressed far more slowly than he would have hoped, but he finally had cracked the major league roster. And in his first major league game, things could not have gone any better. Sheaffer began his career 0 for 2, but he singled in his third at-bat and then In the 7th inning with the Red Sox down a run, Sheaffer drilled a game-tying home run. Then in his second game, Sheaffer laced a go-ahead single and then a run-scoring double to ice the game. But those would prove to be Sheaffer’s last highlights in a Red Sox uniform. He went just 1 fo 26 in his next 9 games before being sent down to the minors and then just 3 for 32 in two other stins with the team. He spent 1988 back at Pawtucket, managing just a .274/.321/.348 line with just 1 home run in 98 games. What he did do, though, was everything he could to stay productive for his team, stealing 20 bases and seeing time in the outfield and at third base in addition to catcher. The Red Sox, though, had seen enough and let Sheaffer leave as a minor league free agent.
Sheaffer’s career was on the fringes. He had gone from top prospect to a Quad-A player constantly on the move. Over the next four years, he bounced from the Indians to Pirates to Twins organizations, appearing in just 7 major leagues games. But the following season, MLB expanded, adding the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies, and Sheaffer seized the opportunity to sign with the Rockies as a free agent. He split time at catcher and also got into a few games at first base, left field, and first base, managing a .278 average with 4 home runs in 82 games and throwing out 29% of attempted basestealers. He had one more mediocre season with the Rockies before finishing his career with 3 seasons playing for the Cardinals, beginning as a backup catcher but playing third base increasingly more as his time with the Cardinals progressed and actually seeing time at every position on the field but pitcher and shortstop. He retired in 1998, one year after his final time in the big leagues, having logged 389 career major league games, hitting .232 with 13 home runs across 7 seasons. He continued his baseball career as a manager beginning in 2000 at Short Season-A Eugene in the Cubs organization and then moving on to Double-A New Haven, Low-A Peoria, where he led the Chiefs to a championship, and then four years at Triple-A Memphis. He then served for four years as a catching coordinator in the Houston Astros organization before moving into his new role as Princeton Rays manager for next season.
Several of the players Danny Sheaffer will manage next season will be top prospects, and Sheaffer was once in their shoes. He knows what it’s like to have expectations imposed upon you at a young age and to have all the pressure on you to perform. He knows what it’s like to succeed, and he also knows how it feels to fail. And he understands that even when everything comes apart, you still have to persevere and do whatever you can to find a way to overcome whatever is in front of you. For the Rays, having someone like Sheaffer teaching players among the youngest in their organization is an incredible luxury and something they are thrilled came together. Under Sheaffer, the 2013 Princeton Rays will learn exactly what it takes to fulfill their dreams of playing in the major leagues, and no matter what happens on the field, the mental toughness Sheaffer will help them develop will be something that carries them wherever their careers will lead.