Richie Shaffer stepped onto the Clemson campus as a can’t-miss prospect. He can hit for average to all fields and has enough pop in his bat to keep pitchers honest. His defense at third base has been consistent and he can make all the plays at the corner infield positions.
But, according to Clemson coach Jack Leggett, the most impressive thing about Shaffer has been his continuing growth as a leader on and off the field.
“He’s really developed into a mature leader for us,” Leggett said as the Tigers prepare for today’s regional contest against Coastal Carolina. “He’s played a really good third base for us and he’s an offensive force. His leadership qualities have really jumped to the forefront this year. He practices hard, he plays hard and is just excited to be out there.”
A two-time All-ACC selection, Shaffer is the highest rated prospect playing in this weekend’s Columbia Regional. He is expected to be drafted in the first round of next weeks Major League Amateur Draft and depart after three seasons playing for the Tigers.
But according to Shaffer, all that talk of a professional career can wait. Clemson (33-26) was eliminated in regional play last year by Connecticut and is looking for redemption in a regional that features rivals South Carolina and Coastal Carolina along with Manhattan.
“This is a very important time for our team,” Shaffer said. “It would be selfish of me to be thinking about my future. I’m trying to stay concentrated on the task at hand right now and do everything I can to help our team win. I will deal with Monday when it comes.”
“His focus is on the team, which is a good thing,” Leggett said. “He could be distracted very easily if he wanted to think about himself.”
Opponents have been wary of Shaffer all season. Entering the NCAA tournament, Shaffer was fourth in the country in walks (58) and is hitting .339 with 10 home runs, 46 RBIs with a .583 slugging percentage and .479 on-base percentage. All of those totals lead the team other than RBIs — he is second behind Phil Pohl.
But as the season has progressed, Shaffer has seen fewer pitches to hit. Early in his career, he often chased pitches out of the zone. Now he has become a much more patient hitter as the 58 walks in 59 games attest. No other Clemson player has more than 25 walks.
But the lack of opportunities to hit has not affected Shaffer’s approach.
“I don’t think frustration is the word for it because I’m happy getting on base,” Shaffer said. “That’s going to help the team out. As a hitter, I’d be lying if I say I didn’t want to swing every time up and get a hit. I have to stay within my approach and know that the guys behind me are going to bring me in. The more times I get on base from a walk or whatever is going to help our team in the end.”
Leggett feels confident that the Tigers have players who can cause damage behind Shaffer in the lineup. Pohl usually bats after Shaffer and leads the team with 50 RBIs.
“He’s locked in with what he has to do,” Leggett said of Shaffer. “If they want to give him a walk, he’ll take a walk. We’ve got guys behind him that can do some damage if they want to pitch around Richie a little bit.”
Shaffer was hitless in three at bats with two walks in a 10-7 loss to Coastal Carolina on April 24. But Chanticleers coach Gary Gilmore is wary of the damage Shaffer can cause.
“He’s definitely someone that you have to be aware of,” Gilmore said. “I’d like to tell you we would walk him four straight times if we could but we’ll have to pitch to him at some point, I’m sure. He’s as good a hitter as we’ve faced this year.”