Big Red can Hit!!
As Chris Shelton’s two run homer flew out of Comerica Park in the ninth inning Sunday to tie the game, I couldn’t help but to think that this guy could be something special. It’s not often you see a player with such limited professional experience get to the big leagues and immediately hit. Shelton had a grand total of 46 at bats last year in his Rule 5 season with the Tigers. He hit.196 with one home run and three RBI. This year, after 43 at bats, he’s hitting .302 with 2 homers and 10 RBI. The difference? Last season Shelton had 46 at bats…ALL YEAR! As a Rule 5 pick, the Tigers had to keep him on the roster the entire season or risk losing him.
With sporadic at bats and nothing more that catching bullpen sessions to keep him busy, it was a tough year for Chris to swallow. He did not however waste the year. He took every opportunity to learn what it takes to get to the big league level and to stay. Tigers hitting coach Bruce Fields managed Shelton this past off season in the Arizona Fall League, a winter league comprised of many of the game’s top young prospects. After only 46 at bats in the big leagues, Shelton went on to tear up the AFL. He hit .404 and was the league’s MVP. "For him to do that after basically sitting the entire year in the big leagues is incredible," Fields said.
The former University of Utah Utes star has also seemingly mastered the art of DH’ing. The designated hitter is very rarely a young guy. The best DH’s in the past have been veterans who have had the ability to be able to hit and then sit and wait a half hour for the next at bat. Guys like Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez. For Shelton, it’s no sweat. "I did it a lot in college and in the minors," he said. "I’m able to find ways to fill time between at bats. I like to watch their pitcher for patterns he may be using. It’s just a matter of finding ways to fill the down time while you wait for your next at bat."
Part of the reason the Pirates let Shelton go in the draft may have been the feeling that he wasn’t as good defensively as some others in their system. Chris played first at Toledo this season and caught a handful of games before his call- up. In Detroit, he has played first and DH. While he may not have the glove of a Carlos Pena, he has provided something that Carlos couldn’t: a spark offensively. There is a saying in baseball: "If you can hit, they’ll find a place for you."
Chris Shelton can hit.