When Richie Shaffer was a first-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Rays four years ago, he was certain of a fast climb to the major leagues.
Reality made the 2009 Providence High graduate adjust his thinking, even after spending the final two months of the 2015 season with the Rays.
Back this season with the Class AAA Durham Bulls for the second year, the 25-year-old Shaffer is certain a return to the majors is coming.
He’s just not going to be impatient about it.
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“When you’re drafted, you’re very naïve to the whole system and how it works,” Shaffer said. “Coming out of college, I was thinking, ‘I’ll be in the majors in no time.’ But I had unrealistic expectations.
“Obviously, the minors hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows; I’ve had my struggles and gone through a lot of failure to get to this point. But you have to go through failure and adversity to learn about yourself and grow.”
Still, Shaffer has been a fast riser even within the Rays organization since he was taken in the first round (25th overall) of the 2012 draft.
Shaffer hit .308 in 33 games at Hudson Valley (N.Y.), the Rays’ short-season-A team, in 2012. In 2013, his 73 RBIs with Charlotte (Fla.) was fifth-best in the Advanced-A Florida League.
But when he was moved up to Class AA Montgomery (Ala.) in 2014, Shaffer’s baseball career hit its first speed bump. But he hit a team-best 19 home runs that season, second-best in the Southern League.
“I just wasn’t very good to start the season, and I started to doubt myself,” Shaffer said. “The last 6-8 weeks of the season, I turned things around, finished really strong and salvaged the season. It’s snowballed in the right direction from that point on.”
Shaffer opened the 2015 season with Montgomery, but got a quick callup to Durham six weeks later. He wound up belting 19 home runs – fourth-best in the IL – despite playing just 68 games.
That got Shaffer his dream shot – a callup to the Rays in early August, where he made 31 game appearances (with 18 starts) over the remaining two months of the season.
“He not only proved to everybody in the organization and in baseball, but to himself as well, that he belongs in big-league baseball,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. “He got a taste of it, and knows now that he can play there.”
While having to start 2016 in Durham was a step back for Shaffer, it was part of a hectic three-month stretch leading into the new season. He got married (to Danielle, who he has dated since high school) on Jan. 30, and was part of the Rays’ squad that played an exhibition game in Cuba on March 22.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to get to do and experience some of the things I have recently,” Shaffer said. “I thought I did what I could last year to get the opportunity this year, but it wasn’t in the cards to start the season. But I’m confident that at some point, it’ll happen again.”