Richie Shaffer's first full professional season didn't go exactly as he'd hoped. Shaffer had starred at Clemson and played well in his professional debut after the Rays made him 25th overall pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. But that success didn't continue as he advanced to Class A Advanced Charlotte.
Shaffer hit .254 with a .308 on-base percentage. He felt he had gotten away from some of the things that had made him a successful player in college. So, in the Arizona Fall League, he has tried to return to the approach that made him a first-round pick.
Thursday, Shaffer showed his potential. The Rays' No. 9 prospect went 2-for-3 with a stolen base and an RBI, helping Salt River to a 4-2 victory against Scottsdale at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The victory moved the Rafters within a half game of first place in the East Division with six games to play.
"I had a good approach," Shaffer said. "I wanted to stay within myself and I had some pitches to hit and I didn't miss them."
Despite striking out once Thursday, Shaffer still has more walks (15) than strikeouts (14) this fall. He said that ratio is one of the things he wanted to improve after striking out 106 times and walking just 35 times in 122 games this season.
"Being patient was something that worked for me," Shaffer said. "In the regular season, I was a little aggressive and ended up swinging at pitches I didn't want to hit. Out here, I'm trying to trust that if I get my pitch, I can hit it. I'm getting in more hitter's counts.
"It's something I've been working on a lot, so it's good to see some positive results out of it."
Shaffer helped give Salt River an early lead Thursday. After Scorpions starter Aaron Northcraft walked the bases loaded in the first inning, Kyle Parker hit a two-run single. Shaffer followed with a sacrifice fly to give the Rafters a 3-0 lead.
"I thought we did a great job of jumping on them early with that three spot," Shaffer said. "Then our pitching carried us into about the [fifth], when we got that insurance run."
The Rafters were held to six hits, but didn't need much offense the rest of the game. Andy Burns scored two runs and Tim Wheeler, the Rockies' No. 10 prospect, went 1-for-2 with a run and two walks.
Salt River's pitching staff didn't need any more run support as right-hander Bo Schultz continued his solid fall. For the fifth straight start, the D-backs' farmhand completed five innings. He did allow nine hits, but he limited the damage to one run in the fourth and another in the fifth.
The Scorpions fared no better with Schultz out of the game, as three relievers limited them to one hit in four innings. Four Scorpions had multiple hits, but they were unable to get the timely hit they needed. Alex Dickerson, the Pirates' No. 13 prospect, went 2-for-4 with a double and a run.
As the season nears its final week, Salt River is in a close race with Mesa in the East Division. The winner will play in the AFL Championship Game on Nov. 16.
While Shaffer knows the end of the season is fast approaching, he said he will use all the time he has left in the AFL to keep learning and growing as a player. He said the most important lessons he has learned in his first full professional season have been about the mental aspect of the game and he wants to be able to keep building on them and take some momentum into the offseason.
"I'm learning who I am as a player and what I'm capable of," Shaffer said. "These are a lot of things that some of the veteran players that are here have already figured out. But that's what the fall league is for young players like me."