Is Richie Shaffer the Rays’ First Baseman of the Future?

By David Hill

One of the traits that the Tampa Bay Rays and Joe Maddon truly value is versatility. Having players such as Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez and Sam Fuld on the roster has been a major factor as to why Maddon has been able to play the matchups as well as he has. Seeing how the Rays value players that are capable of playing multiple positions, it is no surprise that Tampa Bay’s minor league players would look to do the same. Former first round pick Tim Beckham started playing at second base last season, as he sought a way to expedite his journey to the majors.

Even players in the lower minors have embraced the concept of versatility, hoping that the ability to play multiple positions could help them in their dreams of reaching the majors. The latest of those players to begin to look to add to their defensive repertoire is minor league third baseman Richie Shaffer, who has been playing first for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.

Shaffer, who has been a third baseman exclusively during his minor league career, has begun playing first base in the AFL. With Evan Longoria locked up for the next nine seasons, and with questions as to whether or not Shaffer would be able to remain at third since he was drafted, such a transition may have been inevitable even without Longoria’s presence.

"“Whether I stay over [at third] or not throughout my future is not really up to me,” Shaffer said. “But being able to be consistently good over there is just going to help me out, and help the organization [know] what my future is going to be like. Being versatile is something [the Rays] really value, so I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself in one position.”"

Even though Shaffer disappointed last season, he did jump an entire level in 2013, bypassing Bowling Green to play for the Charlotte Stone Crabs. As a 22 year old playing at the High A level, Shaffer hit at a .254/.308/.399 rate with eleven home runs and 73 RBIs. Thus far, he has not been much better offensively with the Rafters, producing a .259/.417/.333 line in eight games. Yet, despite his struggles, Shaffer is still ranked ninth among the Rays top twenty prospects this offseason.

With the Rays having a possible opening at first base in the next couple of years, learning how to play at first may help to open an opportunity for Shaffer in the future. Cameron Seitzer may develop into a solid hitter, but he has not displayed the power that is typical at the position. If Shaffer is able to tap into his raw power potential, his shift across the diamond may help get him to the majors.

With how much the Rays value versatility, it makes sense that Richie Shaffer would look to learn to play another position on the diamond. In doing so, he may actually be setting himself up for a look at a starting position in another couple of years.