Everyone who knew Richie Shaffer expected the top corner-infield prospect to be disappointed when a couple of nagging injuries caused his MLB draft stock to plummet after he graduated from high school in 2009. And make no mistake, Shaffer was disappointed. Just not for the reason most people suspected.
“Being injured is never fun, and it’s always something that is pretty disappointing. You work your butt off all the time to be prepared and then something happens that’s kind of out of your control,” Shaffer said in a recent telephone conversation with Perfect Game. “I was leaning pretty heavily towards coming to school anyway so I was more disappointed that I wasn’t able to play the rest of my senior year than I was that it hurt my draft stock, or whatever.
“It was a pretty disappointing experience, but I got stronger from it and I grew and I was able to battle through adversity, and (after that) every situation that is a negative you’re able to draw positives from.”
When Shaffer – a 2008 PG/Aflac All-American – began his senior year at Providence Senior High School in Charlotte, N.C., in the 2008-09 school year he was projected as an early round selection in the 2009 MLB amateur draft. But hand and hamstring injuries cut his senior season short, and he wasn’t selected until the L.A. Dodgers took him the 25th round.
Undeterred, Shaffer honored his commitment to legendary coach Jack Leggett and Clemson University. Now, after two-and-half stellar seasons on the Clemson, S.C., campus, he has once again put himself in position to hear his named called when the first round of the 2012 draft is conducted on June 4.
Perfect Game National Director of Scouting David Rawnsley came out with his first Mock Draft on April 17 and projects Shaffer to be selected by the Oakland A’s with the 11th overall pick of the first round. No. 39-ranked Clemson stood 21-17 (9-9 Atlantic Coast Conference) heading into a three game weekend at series at No. 45 Maryland April 21-22, and Shaffer was much more concerned with what the Tigers need to do to finish the season strong than he was with the upcoming draft.
“It’s hard to completely ignore because it’s something that’s coming up here in the near future, but I’m trying to stay focused as much as I can on the present right now,” he said. “I want to play each game as hard as I can and not worry about things out of my control, and ultimately (the draft) is out of my control. I can’t convince anyone to pick me any higher or any lower … and all I’m trying to do is be the best teammate I can possibly be for the guys on our team and hopefully get some wins. The rest will take care of itself.”
Shaffer’s first two years at Clemson were nothing short of terrific. He entered this season as a career .318 hitter (.555 slugging percentage, .426 on-base percentage) in 111 games, with 26 doubles, 20 home runs, 91 RBI and 107 runs scored. As a sophomore, he hit .315 in a team-high 63 games, and also posted team-highs in home runs (13), RBI (55), runs (62) and stolen bases (8).
He’s back at it again this spring. After 38 games, Shaffer was hitting a team-high .390 with team-highs in hits (53), doubles (14), home runs (8), total bases (93), slugging percentage (.684), on-base percentage (.520) and walks (39).
Shaffer, a two-time ACC All-Academic selection, now has a 149-game career batting average of .337 (174-for-516) with 40 doubles, 28 home runs, 127 RBI and 139 runs, and with slugging and on-base percentages of .589 and .452, respectively.
“I’ve felt pretty good about the way things have been going for myself but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team get a win every day,” he said. “If that’s taking walks when they give it to you or getting an opportunity to hit the ball in a gap or something, I’m going to do what I’ve got to do. I’m just trying to not do too much here and not put too much pressure on myself.
“I had a lot of expectations coming into the year but I didn’t set any real statistical goals or anything like that, just because that’s not something I really believe in,” he continued. “I had high expectations for myself and for this team and I expect myself and my teammates to go out there and compete as hard as we can every day … and that’s really all you can ask for.”
Shaffer was tabbed the No. 13 overall top prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer, and PG’s scouting profile noted that his “raw power (was) among the best of the Cape” and that he possessed “big bat speed in an athletic 6-3 frame.” In a Draft Focus profile published Feb. 17, PG’s Allan Simpson wrote that “Shaffer’s basic hitting tools are … considered some of the most polished and advanced in the college ranks.”
“This has been incredible; I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” Shaffer said of his experiences at Clemson. “I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made over the past four years, and I’ve loved every minute of it and I’ve met all my best friends for life. It’s something that should be very highly valued by a lot of young players coming up, and there’s not a whole lot more you can put a (higher) value on than coming to school and the things you get to experience at school.”
Shaffer took part in 11 Perfect Game events between 2006 and 2009, including nine PG WWBA tournaments while playing for founder Don Hutchins and the South Charlotte Panthers organization.
“Don Hutchins is just an incredible guy,” Shaffer said. “He has a great organization, and he really has morals and high values, and he’s really a big character guy. He really instilled a lot of the principals that I value today – the hard work and hustle and those type of things. Those are the things that I learned as a young player through him and my high school coach (Danny Hignight) and my dad (Rick Shaffer).”
Two of those PG WWBA tournaments Shaffer attended were the prestigious World Championships (2007 and 2008) in Jupiter, Fla. His first trip there in ’07 came just as his junior year in high school was getting started, and the experience was an eye-opener for the youngster.
“It was one of the first times any of us on that team had really gotten to experience that level of exposure,” Shaffer said. “It’s right around the time you’re starting to get recruited for college and some of the professional scouts are starting to take a look at you, too. You’re playing against the best talent from around the country … and it’s something that’s pretty cool and makes you grow up pretty fast as a player. It helps you grow as a player and as a person and it’s a pretty fun part of the process, as well.”
Shaffer also took part in the 2008 Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and the 2008 Aflac All-American Game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He was the starting third baseman for the East squad in the ‘08 All-American Game, and walked twice and scored a run. Two future first round draft picks – outfielder Brian Goodwin (Nationals, 34th overall, ’11 draft) and right-hander Zack Wheeler (Giants, 6th overall, ’09) – were teammates of Shaffer’s on the East team.
The 2008 West team boasted five 2009 draft first round picks including right-hander Jacob Turner, the No. 9 overall selection by the Tigers who made his Major League debut last summer. The others were left-hander Tyler Matzek (Rockies, 11th overall), shortstop Jiovanni Mier (Astros, 21st), outfielder Slade Heathcott (Yankees, 29th) and third baseman Matt Davidson (Diamondbacks, 35th).
“I was really blessed; I got to do a lot of really incredible things throughout my high school (career),” Shaffer said. “I got to play at Dodger Stadium, I got to do the Perfect Game (National) Showcase in Minneapolis; I got to go out on a couple of big league fields as a high school player and that’s something not very many people can say they did. It was really amazing to think about all the tradition and all the people that had played on that field every day. It was inspiring and amazing all at the same time.”
Someday, perhaps not all that far in the future, Shaffer may once again be playing in big league stadiums. When that happens, he will have fulfilled a childhood dream and will have put behind him once and for all his disappointment of missing the end of his final high school season.
“Ever since I was a little kid playing whiffle ball in the backyard I’ve dreamed about being a big-leaguer and playing professional baseball and playing like your heroes,” Shaffer said. “Obviously, it’s been one of my goals since Day 1 of baseball and it’s something I’m excited about.”