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Tampa Bay Rays: What We Learned From Richie Shaffer’s Call-Up

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Needing a pitcher, the Tampa Bay Rays sent Richie Shaffer down to the minor leagues, concluding his first stint with the big club. Overall, the results were pretty good. Shaffer produced a .263/.391/.579 line with a pair of home runs. He went to the opposite field in Chicago for his first hit and homer before drilling a go-ahead blast to cap a 3-for-3 performance against the New York Mets. What did Shaffer’s first major league time tell us about his future with the Rays?

The Strikeouts: Shaffer’s billing as a strikeout-heavy slugger certainly proved true. Shaffer made 23 plate appearances and ended 10 of them (43.5%) with a strikeout. That is a little bit scary. Shaffer got beaten in all sorts of ways, from getting overpowered by fastballs up to swinging and missing at sliders down. The tendency of his swing to get long was especially concerning–we know about the power (and will discuss it more), but if keeps selling out for it, the results will be disastrous.

The Patience: On the other hand, Richie Shaffer isn’t a hacker. He takes his pitches and works counts, looking especially good at laying off fastballs out of the zone. His 7 walks against 10 strikeouts on fastballs and sinkers was quite encouraging. He showed some weakness against breaking balls that looked like strikes out of the hand, but he rarely chased badly. Ironically enough, Shaffer was more pitchable within the zone than outside of it. We can’t be quite sure what to make of that, but at the very least, he saw more pitches and gave himself chances to find mistakes.

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The Power: Shaffer doesn’t hit anything weakly. According to Baseball Info Solutions, not a single one of Shaffer’s batted balls was classified as “Soft,” with 55.6% going down as “Medium” and 44.4% considered “Hard.” The league averages are 18.5% Soft, 52.9% Medium, and 28.6% Hard. That reflects quite well on Shaffer. It is a little frustrating that his power comes more from strength than bat speed and that also has a lot to do with his strikeouts, but at the very least, he has a quick enough swing to barrel pitches and make good contact when he connects. He can hit the ball a long way, and if he can continue to cut down as the strikeouts, he hits for enough power to be a productive major league player.

More Matchups Than Platoons: Shaffer was called up primarily to play against left-handed pitching, but he actually did nearly all of his damage against righties, recording four of his five hits and both of his homers against them. That is the type of thing that should even out–he was especially good against southpaws in the minors–but it is worth remembering that even if Shaffer will be a backup in September, it shouldn’t be based on handedness, but instead pitchers’ arsenals. Hopefully Shaffer will eventually be able to play against everyone, but for now, he profiles well against soft-tossers and pitchers without plus breaking pitches while struggling against guys with good velocity and great secondary offerings.

The Defense: Shaffer most of his time at DH, but he also made one start each at third base and first base while appearing twice in right field late in games. He won’t be unseating Evan Longoria anytime soon, but he looked fine at first and could see more starts there in September. His ability to play the outfield, though, is especially interesting. Shaffer hadn’t played the outfield as a professional aside from two games in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, but the Rays showed a lot of confidence in his outfield defense in his brief big league time.

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Shaffer was regarded as a potential corner outfielder from the moment he was drafted, and his ability to play right field (and presumably left field soon as well) will help him garner playing time with the Rays moving forward. Even if three of John Jaso, James Loney, Desmond Jennings, and Steven Souza Jr. are back next season, Shaffer could find his way to a role as a super-utility player seeing time at DH, the corner outfield spots, and first while occasionally playing third and letting Longoria play DH. The Rays need to be confident in his bat for that to matter, but the bottom line is that if he hits, the Rays will be able to make room for him.

Richie Shaffer looked far from perfect in his first stint with the Tampa Bay Rays, but overall, the good outweighed the bad. He will strike out, but you have to like the patience, the power, and his defensive versatility. The risk with Shaffer is that he strikes out all the time, but if he can continue working to get the K’s down to a reasonable level, he has the makings of an everyday player and just maybe a middle-of-the-order bat.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 119: Brad Boxberger Can’t Pitch in Ties

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