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Tampa Bay Rays: What Can Richie Shaffer Provide?

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It took an injury to Steven Souza Jr. to make it happen, but the Tampa Bay Rays have finally made the move for which fans were clamoring, calling up top prospect Richie Shaffer. Shaffer joins the team after a huge couple of months at Triple-A Durham that saw him hit to a .265/.359/.595 line with 16 home runs, and he is with the Rays to play just about every game. How will his promotion affect the rest of the roster, and what we can we expect Shaffer to contribute offensively?

Shaffer played primarily third base with the Bulls, but we will only see him play there a few times with Evan Longoria still a critical player for this team. Instead, Shaffer will see time at designated hitter, first base, and just maybe right field. Shaffer played first base in college at Clemson, and he also played his first 11 games there in the minor league regular season during his time with the Durham Bulls. In regards to right field, meanwhile, Marc Topkin and Steve Kinsella note that Shaffer was practicing to play right field in Durham and was set to play there for the first time this week.

Shaffer is considered to have the range and arm strength to be a solid defensive corner outfielder, but it may be too much to ask him to play left or right field in the majors right now after only playing there just twice since being drafted (both times in the Arizona Fall League in 2012). Putting Shaffer in the outfield seems like something that the Rays will use more as a late-inning maneuver that gives them more pinch-hitting flexibility than something they will do to start games, at least for the next week or so.

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Instead, Shaffer will play mostly designated hitter for now, moving to first base when James Loney is given a day off against lefties and at least occasionally against righties as well. With David DeJesus in Anaheim in addition to Souza going on the DL, the Rays will still have a less-than-ideal outfield arrangement. Against right-handed pitching, John Jaso in left and Kevin Kiermaier in center are good enough, but the Rays would rather not have Brandon Guyer, Mikie Mahtook, Grady Sizemore, and Joey Butler seeing time in right field. On the other hand, the current vacancy creates an opportunity: even once Desmond Jennings returns from the DL, Shaffer will still be able to get regular at-bats if he is playing well.

Against lefties, meanwhile, Mahtook, Kiermaier, and Guyer from left to right looks solid enough, and then the quintet of Evan Longoria, Asdrubal Cabrera, Tim Beckham, Logan Forsythe, and Shaffer can occupy the remaining spots. The hope is that Shaffer can be a significant improvement over Sizemore, Butler, and the like against both righties and lefties, and he certainly can’t be worse than they have been playing recently.

The good news as Richie Shaffer joins the Rays is that even average offensive production would be valuable for this team. The expectations from fans will be high, just as they always are, but he doesn’t need to meet them to represent an upgrade. Shaffer has some issues with pitch recognition in addition to holes in his swing, and he will likely strike out a lot. On the other hand, he will draw his walks and hit the occasional home run, and the hope is that those outcomes occur often enough for him to be a league-average hitter or slightly better.

Two comparables for Shaffer are the player he is replacing, Steven Souza Jr., and Joey Gallo. The dream is for him to emulate another third baseman who struck out quite a bit at Triple-A, Kris Bryant, but bear in mind that Shaffer doesn’t have the same type of plate approach and bat speed that Bryant possesses. Even so, Souza managed to hit to a .214/.303/.403 line (97 OPS+) while Gallo was able to hit for enough power that he was a little bit more productive, hitting to a .218/.306/.448 line (105 OPS+). The hope is that Shaffer can put up numbers better than that in the future, but given the ups and downs of any rookie, he will likely end up somewhere around there.

That being said, it isn’t out of the question that Shaffer can go off for a few weeks. He has come a long way since struggling in 2013 and the first half of 2014, and with continued adjustments, he just might turn into a star. Maybe we can see him harness that potential right away and give the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense a lift. We can’t be sure exactly how Shaffer will perform in the long-term, but he at least has a realistic chance of turning into a productive starting corner player in the major leagues. While we will have to be a touch dubious if he gets off to a great start, he has enough talent that isn’t impossible that he can make it last.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Richie Shaffer, A First Rounder That Worked Out

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