A year ago at this time, Richie Shaffer did a lot of sitting and watching.
The Rays' top pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft wasn't hurt. He was playing in the Arizona Fall League as a part of the Phoenix Desert Dogs' taxi squad. The corner infielder, currently ranked No. 9 on the Rays' Top 20 Prospects list, was allowed to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays only, appearing in 15 games and logging 54 at-bats as he headed into his first full season of pro ball.
"I got limited playing time, but it was enough to give me some experience -- which was really nice," said Shaffer, who's on the regular roster of the Salt River Rafters this time around. "I was out here with Kevin Kiermaier last year, who made his debut in Game 163 [with the Rays], so that was pretty awesome for him. There are a lot of guys who come to this league and they're in the big leagues relatively shortly thereafter."
Shaffer certainly hopes he can follow on that path, as well. The Clemson product had an OK first year, though he certainly didn't set the world on fire. He hit .254/.308/.399 with 11 homers and 73 RBIs, while spending the entire season with Charlotte in the Class A-Advanced Florida State League. While he didn't put up the kind of numbers immediately some might expect from an advanced college corner infielder's bat, Shaffer is satisfied with what he accomplished. He understands he still has much to learn.
"There was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but I think I handled it well," Shaffer said. "I think I improved tremendously at third. I think I played well all around, offensively and defensively. It's a lot of things you can't prepare for -- a lot of mental exhaustion more than it is a physical thing, staying positive all the time, making sure you're never throwing away at-bats, small things like that you learn along the way. It was a great experience, I'm going to have fun out here, and I can't wait to get the next [season] going."
Shaffer is getting time at both third and first while in the AFL this year, and that experience could serve multiple purposes. There have been questions about Shaffer's ability to stick at third long term since his Draft year, so playing more first might be a good thing. Shaffer is well aware that the Rays like players who can play more than one spot, and he is also familiar with the Major League personnel in the organization.
"Whether I stay over [at third] or not throughout my future is not really up to me," Shaffer said. "But being able to be consistently good over there is just going to help me out, and help the organization [know] what my future is going to be like. Being versatile is something [the Rays] really value, so I don't want to pigeon-hole myself in one position.
"They've got a pretty good guy in the big leagues there, right now. [I've] just tried to become the best player I could. If, down the road, they need me to move somewhere else, then that's what I've got to do."
Rays hitters in the AFL
Ryan Brett, the Rays' No. 14 prospect, served a 50-game suspension for taking a methamphetamine and an amphetamine, something he said he took inadvertently. He didn't get his 2013 season started until mid-May, but he made up for lost time by hitting .340/.396/.490 in the Florida State League and earning a promotion to Double-A Montgomery. His time in the Fall League should prep him for a start back with Montgomery in 2014, though the speedy tablesetter went just 6-for-35 (.171) in his first 10 games.
Luke Maile was named a Midwest League postseason All-Star, chosen as the circuit's top catcher in 2013. The 2012 draftee out of the University of Kentucky can really catch and throw, wiping out 51 percent of would-be basestealers this past season. He recently replaced Curt Casali on the Salt River Rafters' taxi squad.
Rays pitchers in the AFL
Lefty Mike Montgomery, No. 8 on the Rays' Top 20, has been in Arizona before, playing for Surprise when he was with the Kansas City Royals in 2010. He's back after his first full season with the Rays, another uneven campaign where he showed glimpses of his pure stuff, but had mixed results. After getting clobbered in his first outing, the southpaw has been more solid over his next three (5 IP, 1 ER), all in relief.
Fellow left-hander Grayson Garvin has thrown just 74 2/3 innings as part of the Rays organization. The 2011 draftee didn't pitch until 2012, then had just 11 outings before eventually needing Tommy John surgery. He did make it back for 28 1/3 innings this season and has added 12 1/3 more in the AFL over his first three starts (14 hits, 7 ER).
Right-hander Merrill Kelly, a product of Arizona State taken in the eighth round of the 2010 Draft, is back home playing for Salt River. Kelly has spent time as a reliever and a starter, but reached Triple-A for the first time as a member of the rotation, throwing 158 1/3 innings across two levels. He's been working out of the 'pen in the AFL, allowing four runs on 11 hits over six innings to date.
Since coming out of the University of Tennessee, right-hander Matt Ramsey has been almost exclusively a reliever. As a setup man and part-time closer, Ramsey pitched across two levels of Class A ball and finished with a 2.84 ERA and 10.3 K/9 ratio. He also walked 4.4 per nine, something he's likely working on in Arizona. Ramsey hasn't walked a batter in his first five AFL games, allowing just one run on four hits over five total innings.