Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
In the 2012 draft, the Rays were pleasantly surprised when they were able to take third baseman Richie Shaffer with the number 25 pick of the draft. Shaffer, who had been mentioned as a potential top ten pick, was praised by scouts for his raw bat speed and potential to hit 25+ home runs, as well as his ability to move quick through a minor league system. This did come with the expectation of a few too many strikeouts due to some holes in his swing. A third baseman right now, some predict Shaffer to eventually slide over to first base or right field, where his athleticism and above-average arm would slot well. However, in his first full season in the Rays organization, Shaffer failed to live up to his power potential, hitting to a .254/.308/.399 line with 11 home runs and 33 doubles with High-A Port Charlotte. Shaffer’s power failed largely in part to a flaw in his hitting mechanics.
In every swing, there is a sequence of events that must be timed just right. Basically, a hitter wants to work from the ground up in this sequence. A hitter will first pivot his back toe, followed by the pinching in of his back knee. After this, his hips will begin to pivot before his hands and upper body follow. Shaffer, however, is what a mechanics expert would call “out of sequence.” Rather than first firing his back leg and hips, Shaffer begins his swing with his upper body and then uses his lower half. The main reason for this is because Shaffer’s stride is too long. This causes Shaffer to have a weak base with his legs, which leads to his back leg having a late start in his swing. Because of this, his back leg and hips cannot pivot far enough by the time he makes contact. Seeing as the primary source of power in a swing is the legs and hips, Shaffer costs himself a tremendous amount of power with this. If you watch any major league power hitter swing, their hips and back leg will pivot much earlier than their upper body and hands. This allows the hitter to create more torque with their upper body and thus, more power. However, Shaffer does not use his legs and hips properly. With metal bats and good bat speed in college, he was able to get away with this. But with wood bats, you simply cannot sacrifice any potential power if you wish to hit home runs.
In order to fix this, Shaffer first needs to shorten his stride. This year, Shaffer went back and forth between a longer leg kick and a shorter toe tap. However, both of these end up with him being too wide after his stride. If he can shorten his stride, it will be easier for him to get back into sequence. After doing this he will have to be sure that his lower half is starting off his swing, not his upper half. Shortening his stride could completely fix the problem, or he might still have to focus on starting his swing with his lower half in order to gain the muscle memory required. Regardless, he will not be able to do this until he shortens his stride.
Shaffer has much to improve on if he wishes to reach his full potential as a star player. On top of shortening his stride, he must also improve his pitch recognition and iron out some of the holes in his swing in order to cut down on strikeouts. Thanks to his plus raw bat speed, Shaffer still has the ability to become a 25+ home run player if he can fix these issues. If he cannot fix issues, his future as a big leaguer could be in jeopardy. But the Rays have now recognized the issue, and if Shaffer and the Rays work hard to better his swing, there is nothing to make us think he won’t reach his full potential.