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Tampa Bay Rays pick Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer in first round

ST. PETERSBURG — Richie Shaffer said he has idolized Rays star third baseman Evan Longoria, modeling his game after him.

"How can you get any better as a third baseman?" Shaffer said. "He's an absolute stud and someone that's going to be a staple in that organization for a long time."

And the Rays hope Shaffer, Clemson's slugging junior third baseman, will also be a big part of their future, selecting him in the first round Monday, No. 25 overall. He joins Longoria as the only third basemen Tampa Bay has drafted in the first round.

Shaffer, 21, arguably the top college hitter in the draft, also played first base and rightfield. The Rays say he'll start at third, and it's his bat that would bring him to the big leagues, with executive vice president Andrew Friedman saying he has a chance to move through the system "relatively quickly."

"He brings real power and power now — not power that we're projecting," scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He seems like the kind of kid that fits right in with what we're doing."

Shaffer, a right-handed hitter who batted .336 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs as a junior, was at home in Charlotte, N.C., with about 40 friends and family when commissioner Bud Selig called his name.

"It was pretty incredible," Shaffer said. "I honestly actually didn't even hear it. I kind of spaced out, just heard everyone screaming, kind of didn't know what was going on. I realized, looked up and my name was on TV. It was pretty wild, everyone was going crazy at my house. It was a pretty special moment, probably something I'll never forget."

Harrison said the Rays have liked Shaffer since his days at Providence (N.C.) High, and the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder "matured into the kind of player we thought he was going to be."

Shaffer was considered a top-two round pick in 2009, but a broken hamate bone dropped him to the 25th, and he chose not to sign with the Dodgers. He believes he's much more prepared for pro baseball now.

"I feel like I am much more mature, much more physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually ready for this type of environment and this situation," Shaffer said. "And that's something that I don't know if I can honestly say, coming out of high school I was ready for."

Shaffer said he hasn't thought about the logistics of signing yet; the deadline is July 13 at 5 p.m. But Harrison appeared encouraged, saying Shaffer was "tickled to death," and "I expect him to be out playing sooner than later."

Shaffer played first base his first two years at Clemson then switched to third and says he feels comfortable there. Harrison said Shaffer is a patient hitter, tying for first in the ACC in walks and third in on-base percentage.

"He's one of the best hitters I've seen in college baseball in a long time," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner told the Charleston Post & Courier.

With just one pick Monday, Friedman said they explored going in several different directions but felt Shaffer — rated the 21st overall prospect by Baseball America — was the best value. With Jesuit right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. still available when the Rays picked, Harrison was asked if they considered him.

Harrison smiled, "We liked Richie Shaffer."

Tampa Bay Rays pick Clemson third baseman Richie Shaffer in first round 06/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 10:37am]
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