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Shaffer tackles spring with power and purpose

Taking at-bats when he gets them, prospect aims to increase versatility

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Every now and then the future gets a taste of the present. Such is Richie Shaffer's plight this spring.

The Rays selected Shaffer in the first round (25th overall) of the 2012 Draft out of Clemson. Like others in his situation, he must accrue the obligatory at-bats and innings in the field. If those numbers and innings add up favorably, he will one day find himself in the Major Leagues.

Because of the flexibility of Spring Training, Shaffer has been afforded several opportunities to join the varsity club for Grapefruit League action.

"It's been great," Shaffer said. "I'm not technically in [Major League] camp, but I've had some opportunities where I've been able to fill in for some guys. It's been an awesome experience to get in here and kind of get a rapport with some of the guys. Pick some of the veterans' brains. Just learn from watching. It's been fun; it's been pretty cool."

On Friday, he took the two-hour bus ride from Port Charlotte to Dunedin to dress out for the Rays against the Blue Jays.

"I might find out a day ahead," Shaffer said of when was typically told he would play with the Rays. "The last game I played in against the Yankees [Wednesday], I found out an hour ahead of time, so I was kind of rushing around a little bit. Some days they give you advance notice and other days a couple of hours warning. Obviously, I'm not complaining."

Last year, ranked Shaffer as the 10th best prospect in the organization. Through two seasons in the Rays' farm system, he has a .265 average with 15 home runs and 99 RBIs. Of note, he earned Florida State League All-Star honors in 2013 after leading Charlotte with 33 doubles and 187 total bases.

Rays manager Joe Maddon has not seen too much of Shaffer, but he has seen enough to note: "A pretty good approach at the plate. I like his arm there at third base. He has a strong arm. But I haven't seen a whole lot to break him down further than that. But the power's definitely there, to all fields. Although I guess he likes to pull the ball primarily. But a good fielder. Throws really well."

Shaffer, who turns 23 on March 15, is pleased with his progress thus far in the professional ranks.

"I didn't know what to expect when I first signed," Shaffer said. "You hear all kind of things about professional baseball. Each player has their own progress at their individual levels. I think that I'm maturing as a player and growing every day.

"I think I'm making great strides. I like the improvements I'm making in my game. Just going to try and keep on growing and hopefully have a good year."

Shaffer said he made an easy transition from the aluminum bat he used in college to the wooden bat used in professional baseball.

"I had experience using wooden bats in college when I played in summer leagues," Shaffer said. "I haven't 100 percent found a model that I love; I'm still kind of searching. I've been experimenting. There are certain things I like, but I just haven't found the one that's perfect for me just yet. So hopefully I'll just grab a hold of one that just feels right."

Shaffer plays primarily third base, but he can also play first base or either of the corner outfield positions. And while he is known for his power, he understands the value of bringing along some leather as well.

"I know versatility is something that's valued highly in this organization," Shaffer said, adding that playing other positions was "definitely something I'm open to try to work on. As of right now, I'm working strictly at third base. I'm trying to perfect my craft over there.

"Until they say otherwise, my goal is to be a Gold Glove defender at whatever position I play. If they say they need me over at first, I'll go over there and work my butt off. If they say they need me in the outfield, so on and so forth."

Being a third baseman in the Rays' organization presents one monstrous obstacle in the form of All-Star Evan Longoria, who occupies the position for the Rays.

But Shaffer is not about to get caught up in thinking about that.

"There are players in the Major Leagues at every position, and, obviously, not all of them are the caliber of Evan Longoria, but there will always be good players ahead of you," Shaffer said. "So you can't worry about the people in front of you. You have to worry about yourself.

"You know the old saying, 'If you hit, they'll find a spot for you.' If you can hit, they'll find a spot for you. But you just have to make sure you take pride in your defense wherever you're at. You can't be a liability out there in the field, because pitching and defense is a premium in this organization. I personally take pride in my defense, and, if down the road whenever the day comes that I have to make a change, I'll take just as much pride in that position as well."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Richie Shaffer