For most professional athletes relocating and traveling is part of the job, but not many have had to experience what Richie Shaffer dealt with this past offseason. Shaffer bounced around to four different organizations in the span of eight and a half weeks during mid-November to late January.
“It got kind of crazy there for a bit,” Shaffer recalled. “I was getting calls every day, every other day from all kind of numbers I didn’t know. Every time the phone rang I was like, ‘oh boy, what’s this?’ It was tough while it was happening, but I landed on my feet and I’m here now so [I’m] just trying to enjoy that, but while it was happening it was pretty wild.”
The whirlwind of an offseason for Shaffer started when Tampa Bay traded him to Seattle on Nov. 18. Three and a half weeks later he was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia. Then, in less than 10 days, Shaffer found himself in the Buckeye State after Cincinnati claimed him off waivers. Finally, a little over a month later he would find his new home after Cleveland claimed the waiver-wire frequenter.
The 26-year-old was drafted by Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2012 draft and spent his first five years throughout its organization from Low-A all the way up to the major league club playing 51 games for the Rays between 2015 and 2016. He was named the Rays’ 11th-best prospect in 2015 and their top-ranked third baseman.
This season, Shaffer has made Columbus his new home. He leads the team in home runs, runs batted in, and walks. Just as Shaffer has a newfound love for Columbus, the Clippers couldn’t be happier with their newfound prospect.
“He’s a great kid to have around, knows how to handle his at-bats, and so far has shown the ability to take consistent at-bats,” hitting coach Rouglas Odor praised. “He has shown the ability to drive pitches way out of the ballpark not just to the pull side but to anywhere and I’m glad that he’s having success here.”
While Shaffer is having success now, the hard work started back in Spring Training with the Indians. He spent the spring battling for a third base spot with Cleveland and racked up 57 at-bats during the time hitting .263 with nine RBIs, however, a high strikeout total (22 in 25 games) would prevent Shaffer from making the big league roster. Still, it’s something he benefitted from.
“Being new, every at bat that I could get to have them familiarize themselves with me and what I could do was gonna help me throughout the entire year,” Shaffer said. “I enjoyed it from the fact that I was able to try to get completely locked in. I got 50, 60 at-bats in Spring Training compared to some guys that get 20, 25 so using that to my advantage and any opportunity I could to get out there and show them what I could do was great.”
Shaffer stayed focused through his chaotic offseason by working hard and continuing to improve to so he could help any organization he was a part of and the effects of his hard work have been on display in Columbus this season.
“I made some swing adjustments this offseason that allow me to see the ball a little longer and be able to hit the ball a little deeper and control the outer half of the plate a little better,” Shaffer explained. “Pitchers know that I’m capable of hitting the ball out of the park so they’re not just gonna lay one in there, they’re gonna try to be careful so sometimes that leads to walks.”
His play is something that has received attention for from teams all over the International League as he is in the top six in both home runs and walks this season. Clippers manager Chris Tremie took notice of Shaffer’s improvements this offseason and now gets to help him work on his craft every day as he continues to chase a spot on the Indians.
“He works hard out there and he’s been playing good in left and having good at-bats,” Tremie said. “I think he’s done a really good job of zoning up and getting balls that he wants to hit and laying off breaking balls down, out of the zone and if he can continue to do that he’s gonna be very successful.”
Every day that Shaffer takes the field, he is not only representing himself and the Cleveland organization, but also his childhood idol, Cal Ripken Jr. Shaffer was born in Flemington, New Jersey, and grew up in North Carolina playing baseball at Clemson for three years. There he wore No. 8 as a tribute to Ripken. Outside of a small stint with Double-A Montgomery, Columbus is the first place he has been able to wear that number since college, another reason why Columbus has become Shaffer’s new home.
“I just always enjoyed the way that he played and I thought that the record that he had and his sort of legacy was something that I think more players need to emulate in their game,” Shaffer said. “He just sort of became that number that I try to go out there and play that same type of way every day grinding through no matter what.”
Shaffer’s attitude of working hard each and every day is what has got him to where he is today and the battle is never ending as he chases the dream of becoming a regular major league player.
“It’s different first time being in a new organization, all new faces and you’re not comfortable with anyone yet and you’re sort of trying to get a lay of the land,” Shaffer admitted. “But it was an easy transition and they welcomed me in right away and I felt comfortable from day one.”