Aaron Shackelford arrived in the Appalachian League coming off an incredible collegiate season. Trying to show how that success translates with the Bristol Pirates, the infielder is embracing new challenges.
“It’s obviously a much different game,” Shackelford said. “College kind of got easy and now every day is a challenge. The competition is much better and consistent. Every at-bat I have to lock in.”
Shackelford was the NAIA Player of the Year, playing for The Master’s University in California. He hammered 36 homers and drove in 99 runs in 52 games this year. That included 11 homers in his last nine college games.
Thirteen of his first 30 hits for Bristol went for extra bases.
“I see why he had as many extra-base hits and home runs as he did, because he has some power to all fields,” Bristol manager Kieran Mattison said. “There’s true power there.”
The left-handed batter is listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds. He said weight training has been essential since high school.
But he’s added to that, going through a yoga routine most nights to enhance his conditioning.
“I put a huge emphasis on it,” he said. “I can’t go to sleep until I do that.”
Perhaps college programs were sleeping on him because Shackelford had no offers other than The Master’s, so he went to the school where he played in all but one game across four seasons. He was coming out of an esteemed Murrieta Valley High School program, which has been a pipeline. Alums Brandon Dixon, Patrick Wisdom, Tyler Wade and Kevin Padlo all have reached at least the Triple-A level recently.
Shackelford’s route looks different. He was a 14th-round Draft pick in June.
“Being here, you don’t have to go Division I or to a great [baseball] school to make it in pro ball,” he said. “[This can] be an example to guys who aren’t recruited out of high school.”
He began at The Master’s, which has less than 1,000 students, as an outfielder before moving to shortstop. He has played as a third baseman and second baseman for Bristol. Mattison said he looks comfortable at second base.
“Shortstop has kind of prepared me for most positions,” Shackelford said.
With the numbers produced in college, there was inclination to try to live up to that reputation.
“They’re always trying to prove to themselves that they belong at this level,” Mattison said. “I think he saw early on that right out of the gate just who he is. He just loves to work and be challenged. … But he was putting pressure on himself. I told him to just trust his abilities.”
Shackelford said he knows it’s a process, and in many ways he’s starting anew.
“I’ve had great weeks and really bad weeks, but through it all I know I’ve grown,” he said.
Finishing touch: The only complete game for an Appalachian League pitcher so far this year came from Johnson City right-hander Michael YaSenka, who went seven innings in the first game of a doubleheader sweep of the Kingsport Mets. The five-hitter came with one walk and 10 strikeouts and resulted in his first professional victory. His longest college outing for Eastern Illinois this year was eight innings in a victory, but he didn’t have a complete game in any of his team-high 15 starts.
Having a ball: Moving past the midway point of the Appalachian League season, Danville first baseman Bryce Ball is the league leader in home runs and RBIs. Ball has had only one stretch of more than three games without a homer. The league has had the same player end the season atop those categories in two of the past four years, with Dash Winningham of Kingsport in 2015 and Bradley Jones of Bluefield in 2016. Winningham shared the homer title.
Back with the team: Burlington manager Chris Widger returned to his role following a one-week absence after the death of his mother. Former big-league infielder Andy LaRoche, the team’s hitting coach, filled in as acting manager and the Royals went 4-3 during that stretch.
Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.