CLEMSON — Richie Shaffer’s powerful, whip-like swing dispatched ball after ball over the left-field fence at Doug Kingsmore Stadium during Clemson’s practice Monday. But batting practice might be the only time Shaffer is allowed to display his power this weekend at the Columbia Regional, where Clemson (33-26) begins NCAA play against Coastal Carolina (41-17) at noon Friday.
The Clemson third baseman is the only player in the regional expected to be drafted in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft next week. But it remains unclear if Shaffer, a 6-3, 190-pound junior, will be given much of a chance to demonstrate his power-hitting ability because opposing coaches and pitchers figure to be careful when he’s at the plate.
After Shaffer’s second home run against South Carolina earlier this season, he was walked in his final three plate appearances of the three-game series. In five plate appearances against Coastal Carolina this season, Shaffer walked twice.
South Carolina coach Ray Tanner admitted he was careful with Shaffer earlier this year and such an approach by opposing coaches will likely continue this weekend.
“He’s one of the better hitters I’ve seen in college baseball in a long time,” Tanner said.
Tanner might become cautious, sooner, if his team faces Shaffer again.
In the three-game regular season series against the Gamecocks, Shaffer posted a 2.356 OPS — on-base plus slugging percentage — an astounding number. The rest of the Clemson team produced a .476 OPS. An OPS of .750 is considered average.
Shaffer has continued to be the No. 1 force in the Tigers’ lineup, surrounded by a cast not always inspiring fear. Clemson has scored two or fewer runs in five of its last six games.
Shaffer leads Clemson in nearly every significant offensive category: average (.339), home runs (10), slugging (.563) and walks (58). No other Clemson players has walked more than 25 times this season.
Shaffer said he’s fortunate to see one pitch to hit per at bat. And on the college game’s biggest stage, teams are likely to become even more risk-averse with Shaffer, who is projected to be taken 19th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals, according to Baseball America’s latest mock draft.
“If they decide to nibble on the edges, I’ll take my walks and the guys behind me will hit me in,” Shaffer said. “I can’t try to do something other than what I’ve been doing the whole year.”
Only seven Clemson regulars are hitting .270 or better, and besides Shaffer, only Phil Pohl (8) has more than five home runs.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett said the Tigers need more production surrounding their star.
“We’d like to see (Shaffer) have a big tournament, but it doesn’t just revolve around him,” Leggett said. “All the pieces of the puzzle around him have to do well and step up their games if we want to do well.”