We will be talking about what Richie Shaffer can give the Tampa Bay Rays around noon, but I had another thought for right now. Much is unclear about what Shaffer will become, but there is one thing that we can say without question: Shaffer made it to the major leagues right about on schedule. No other Rays first round pick since David Price in 2007 can make that claim.
Shaffer’s path to his major league debut certainly wasn’t what anyone expected, at least from his second season onwards. For his first year, he went to Hudson Valley and was their best position player by a large margin. He put up an .893 OPS compared to the .652 team average and Luke Maile‘s .771 second-place mark among his teammates. He came through in the playoffs, delivering a huge game-tying three-run home run as the Renegades went on to win their first New York-Penn League championship since someone named Josh Hamilton led the way in 1999.
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From there, though, Shaffer started looking like all of the other picks. He was disappointing, but worse than that, he wasn’t the same player that the Rays thought they had selected. Tim Beckham was supposed to be a five-tool athlete, but before long, we started hearing about his “pitcher’s body” that meant that his projectable skill-set wouldn’t progress as hoped. Josh Sale was supposed to be a high-character player and we know what has transpired since then. And here was Shaffer, hitting to a .254/.308/.399 line at High-A with limited power and three times as many strikeouts as walks. He certainly wasn’t looking like an advanced college power bat.
In 2014, Shaffer looked better at Double-A Montgomery, but only to an extent. He hit to a .222/.318/.440 line with 28 doubles, 19 homers, and 64 RBI. He couldn’t hit for as high of an average and saw his strikeouts increase, but at least he was showing more power and drawing additional walks. He finished the year strongly, hitting to a .255/.358/.540 line in his last 191 plate appearances, and the Rays were raving about the adjustments in his approach. However, could fans really believe the team? Could a good month-and-a-half outweigh struggles for the better part of the previous two years?
It was hard to be optimistic when the Rays started Shaffer back at Montgomery to start 2015. But after hitting to a .262/.362/.470 line in 175 plate appearances, he did finally get up to Triple-A Durham, and suddenly the magic from Hudson Valley was back. Before his promotion to the majors, Shaffer hit to a .261/.353/.592 line in 217 PA’s–even exceeding his hot streak to end 2014–with 11 doubles, 16 homers, and 32 RBI. He hit his way into the International League’s home run leaderboard, the Futures Game, and now the Rays’ lineup.
Richie Shaffer was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in June of 2012 and will make his major league debut in August of 2015. Despite his struggles, he made it onto a perfectly reasonable development track and will make his big league debut after about as much time as the Rays had expected. In the end, he did turn into that powerful hitter with formidable power and a patient plate approach.
It would have been great if Shaffer had hit like crazy the whole time and made it to the Rays in only a year or two, but we can hardly complain about how long it took him to ascend through the minors. This is only the first step–now Shaffer needs to perform in the majors. Even so, for the far time in far too long, a Rays draft pick will enter the major leagues with his upside just as significant as it was when he was drafted and his ability to become the player that the Rays had envisioned well within reach.