Shortly before the season began, I wrote a post in which I identified minor leaguer hitters who saw stark decreases in their Zone% in the final month of the 2014 season. This research was meant to emulate work done by Rob Arthur, who found that hitters who saw fewer pitches down the heart of the plate late in the year often outperformed their projections the following season. The player who jumped out most from my analysis was Richard Shaffer — a former first round pick in the Rays organization who had fallen on hard times since his draft year.
I wrote a follow-up piece on Shaffer a few days later, noting that his plummeting Zone% wasn’t the only reason to think he might have turned a corner. He had also reportedly made some adjustments, which were acknowledged by people in the Rays organization and by Shaffer himself. And perhaps most importantly, he raked over the season’s final month. He hit .357/.486/.768 with six homers over his final 17 games. To wit.
A little more than a month later, those adjustments seem to be working. Through 25 games, Shaffer’s belted 6 homers, and holds a 147 wRC+ in Double-A. His .260/.363/.490 triple slash is a far cry from the .222/.318/.440 he posted at the same level last season.
Lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel had the chance to see Shaffer in action multiple times this year, and was able to confirm that Shaffer indeed looks like a different player. Kiley noted that Shaffer seemed much more relaxed and comfortable at the plate than he was last season and didn’t seem quite as worried about his mechanics. He noted that the bat speed looked the same, but that Shaffer’s doing a better job of crushing mistakes and not guessing on pitches.
Kiley said he’d now put the 24-year-old ahead of fellow Rays third base prospect Patrick Leonard, who managed to crack the ranked portion of his list. He now sees Shaffer as a 40 FV player, who could wind up providing value as a part-time corner infielder. That’s not super exciting, but it’s a useful player. As recently as last summer, Richie Shaffer looked like an extreme long shot to ever become a productive big leaguer. Now, it seems like a strong possibility.
Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.
I’m curious of what else Kiley noted from that team. The lineup is pretty stacked. And its a good sign of confidence that Shaffer bats right in the heart of it every night.