BRADENTON, Fla. – I saw a surprising name at the top of the Pirates’ minor league Spring Training roster today.
Those of you who have followed the site for a long time might know him as the 24th round draft pick in the 2012 draft. He went to State College and put up some promising numbers, to the point where he was our number 43 prospect heading into the 2013 season.
Gaffney is probably known more for what happened next. He left baseball to return to Stanford and play football. He eventually was drafted as a running back by the Carolina Panthers in 2014 with the 204th pick in the NFL draft. He was injured before his career began, suffering a torn lateral meniscus during the pre-season. He was eventually waived by the Panthers, and claimed by the Patriots, where he remained for several years either on the injured reserve list, or on the practice squad. The Patriots won the Super Bowl during two of those years.
About a year ago, Gaffney was released by the Patriots, and was signed by Jacksonville. He was cut a week later, and didn’t catch on with anyone else during the 2017 season. Now, Gaffney has decided to hang it up and return to baseball, where the Pirates still control his rights.
“He approached us and said he’s wanting to step away from football,” Pirates’ Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway said. “He’s wanting to try back here. He’s been working out and hitting and doing some things the last couple of months as he’s been preparing for this. He feels like he’s ready to give it a shot.”
Broadway said that he believes Gaffney is done with football, and that the numerous injuries he suffered during his career — which prevented him from ever playing in a game — were the reason for the return. He had a full recovery from the 2014 knee injury, but other injuries crept up, including a foot injury in 2016.
“I think that’s one of the driving factors of him wanting to come back is the wear and tear that the NFL is putting on him physically,” Broadway said. “He doesn’t feel like he can do that over the long-haul. He feels great. We obviously haven’t seen him yet.”
Gaffney is awaiting the birth of a child, and won’t report to Bradenton for another week or two. When he does arrive, the Pirates will get a chance to see if he can still have a shot in baseball. He’ll be 27 years old this year, and hasn’t played above short-season Low-A ball, so he’s a long-shot and a project with an interesting back story. He’s very athletic, enough to make it to the NFL and keep getting chances for years, but there’s no telling how much the injuries impacted him. Gaffney will be an outfielder when he returns.
Perhaps the biggest impact he can provide is his experience playing at the top level in another sport. Gaffney didn’t get into a regular season game, but competed for a spot and came close to making the Patriots’ roster in 2016. Being part of their organization during two winning seasons might bring some different perspective in, and allow Gaffney to be a leader and provide some background, aside from anything he does on the field.
“The time that we had him here, he was definitely influential in the clubhouse culture,” Broadway said. “There was a healthy edge in the high standard he holds his teammates to, and he holds himself to. Definitely a good perspective. Any time you can experience things that no one else has, that’s perspective. He’s experienced things at a high level. He’s experienced some highs and pretty significant lows with it. I think that will be cool for the guys to pick his brain on, and for him to share that with his teammates.”
I’ll have more from Gaffney when he reports to Bradenton.