Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said the organization tried not to come into this year's draft "with any pre-conceived thoughts", and when Clemson infielder Richie Shaffer was on the board when the number 25 spot in the first round came up, the Rays were ready to pull the trigger on one of the draft's best power-bats.
"We were looking at guys with very different profiles," Friedman said in a phone conference Monday night with members of the media. "Richie is a guy that adds a significant power bat to our system, which is always something that's good."
In his junior season at Clemson this year, Shaffer hit for a .336 batting average (78-for-232), with 10 home runs, 46 RBI, 63 walks (which led the ACC), a .573 slugging percentage and a .480 on-base percentage.
Scout.com's National Baseball Expert and former Texas Rangers scout Frankie Piliere ranked Shaffer as the draft's number 12 prospect in his final rankings and seems to have the same scouting notes on the 21-year-old-infielder as Friedman calling him "a low-risk power bat."
"Few players in this class can challenge Shaffer's pure power," said Piliere in his Top Prospects Breakdown published last week. "And, it's not just raw power. Shaffer shows plus power in game action in just about every setting he has played in. Wood bats have proven to be no challenge for him, as he showed tremendous carry to the middle of the field on the Cape last summer."
A native of Flemington, NJ, Shaffer did indeed put his power on display in the Cape Cod League last summer when he won the Cape League Home Run Derby with six prodigious blasts over Fenway Park's Green Monster.
""It's a combination of a lot of things," said Shaffer in a conference call when asked about his power. "It's a combination of God-given ability and a lot of hard work. It's a big part of my game and it's a big thing that I work hard at and I think it's something that's been with me my whole life. It's not something that just kind of appeared."
But Shaffer, as evidenced by his ACC-leading walk total, is much more than just your garden-variety slugger. According to Rays Scouting Director R.J. Harrison he has a good approach at the plate as well.
"He's a patient hitter. He's a real good fastball hitter," said Harrison about Shaffer. "We've seen him against good competition for a long time. We've always liked his bat and his power. He's continued to develop, and we've got a good guy."
One of the early knocks on Shaffer is his presumed lack of athleticism, but Friedman says those concerns are unmerited and also echos Harrison's assertions about his approach to hitting.
"Tremendous power, really good decision making in the box, and is a pretty good athlete," said Friedman. "You look at a guy with that kind of power and think that he's a well below average athlete, but he's not."
There have also been questions raised in the scouting community about what position Shaffer will eventually play professionally. First base or a corner outfield spot have been opined as his eventual position in the major leagues. For now though, the Rays say he will remain at third base.
""We've seen him at all different positions. He's been one of those guys who has moved around. He's played first base quite a bit, he played third base this year; most of the last two years, he's been a first baseman, and we've seen him a little bit in the outfield [in the Cape Cod League]. For us right now, he's a third baseman," said Harrison when asked about where Shaffer projects defensively.
Shaffer too prefers to stay at the hot corner, but seems willing to move to wherever the Rays feel is the best position for him to succeed.
""That has all to do with what the [Tampa Bay Rays] feel I have the best chance of progressing through the organization with," he said when asked what position he favors. "If I had to choose, I'd pick third base, but obviously you have an All-Star caliber third baseman there and he's an absolute stud and someone that is going to be a staple in that organization for a long time. I'm just excited to be part of the organization and wherever they feel is the best for me, I'm happy with."
Shaffer's defensive versatility, a player trait that is widely-known to be of importance to the Rays, is another asset that Friedman says the Clemson star has working for him.
"We also value flexibility, to the extent that he can move around and play first and third and corner outfield is only going to make him that much more valuable," Friedman said. "For now, we're anxious to get him signed, get him out there playing, and at the end of the day his bat is going to be the reason he's called up to the big leagues and not necessarily his defense, but having that flexibility will only help."
Like outfielder Mikie Mahtook last year, Shaffer was one of the draft's top college bats and slipped lower than many draft experts thought he would. Also like Mahtook, he profiles as a player that could move relatively quickly through the Rays system.
"I feel like if we get him out playing he's one of those guys that has a chance to get here relatively quickly. We never move guys too quickly, but on a relative scale, pretty quickly," said Friedman.
Shaffer joins Evan Longoria as the only third basemen to have been drafted in the first round by the franchise. He also is the first-ever Clemson Tiger to have been selected by the Rays and the fifteenth first-rounder from Clemson in the history of the draft.
The Marketing major is looking forward to getting his career started, but as is to be expected, would not reveal if he will be an easy sign or not.
"Right now I'm just really excited about this opportunity and this moment. I haven't even started to begin to think about the logistics of everything—it's something I'm going to have to sit down and think about," Shaffer said when asked about how quickly he'll sign.
"I'm excited for this opportunity and I'm excited to start playing. It's something that with all the excitement and emotion going on right now that I honestly haven't really thought about."
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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