Rays Prospects

Can Rays Avoid a Richie Shaffer Repeat With Casey Gillaspie?

By Robbie Knopf

The Tampa Bay Rays find themselves in a funny situation regarding their first base prospects. In 2012, they selected Richie Shaffer out of Clemson and saw an advanced hitter with the ability to crack their lineup before long. Two years later, however, Shaffer’s progress had halted to the point that the Rays drafted another advanced college first baseman in the first round, Casey Gillaspie.

There is a chance that both Shaffer and Gillaspie could end up being pieces of the Rays’ future. Shaffer is currently a third baseman and could also play either corner outfield spot, leaving first base for Gillaspie. The Rays’ selection to pick Gillaspie had much to do with their opinion of his bat than their opinion of Shaffer’s. Even if that is the case, though, the way the Rays handle Gillaspie could have a lot to do with how Shaffer’s career has turned out.

More from Rays Prospects

In his professional debut with the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2012, Shaffer hit to a .308/.406/.487 line with 5 doubles, 4 homers, 26 RBI, and a 31-16 strikeout to walk ratio in 138 plate appearances. In 2014 for the Renegades, Gillaspie hit to a .262/.364/.411 line with 16 doubles, 7 homers, 42 RBI, and a 65-42 strikeout to walk ratio in 308 PA’s. Considering that Shaffer’s star has dimmed considerably since then, it isn’t a great sign that Gillaspie’s numbers are worse than his.

On the other hand, Gillaspie beat Shaffer in both strikeout rate (21.1% versus 22.5%) and walk rate (13.6% versus 11.6%). Even if he did not hit the ball with as much authority, Shaffer reminds us that power at Short Season-A does not mean much. Shaffer’s struggles the last two seasons have been primarily due to issues with his plate approach. Gillaspie may be primed to avoid such problems.

Another thing that worked against Shaffer was that he needed development both at the plate and in the field. His attention was divided, and that only exacerbated his struggles with more advanced pitching. With the benefit of hindsight, would the Rays have moved Shaffer to first base or the outfield right from the onset of his career?

Gillaspie, meanwhile, is regarded as a pure first baseman, and while that will hurt his future value, it could help his progress as a hitter. The Rays will certainly keep working with him at first base, but his hitting will be the focus of their attention by a wide margin and that could be critical moving forward. The Rays certainly won’t be fooling around with Gillaspie in left field.

Rays fans have to cringe a little bit when they hear Casey Gillaspie being compared to Richie Shaffer, but the subtle differences in his game could be enough for him to achieve entirely divergent results. At the very least, there is no reason to look at Casey Gillaspie’s stats at Hudson Valley and say “Here we go again.”

Next: Marwin Gonzalez: A Rays Trade Target at Shortstop