ALTOONA, Pa. – Aaron Shackelford has been one of the biggest surprises in the Pirates’ farm system this year.
Drafted out of The Masters University in the 14th round as a college senior in 2019, Shackelford is on the older side for a prospect. He’s in his age 25 season, making the jump to the Double-A level this year.
Shackelford has responded by hitting .252/.321/.534, with a lot of power coming in the form of 23 home runs and 21 doubles. He’s also seen his strikeout rate drop, in a system where so many players are seeing an increase in power with an increase in strikeouts. This year is a huge improvement over his numbers last season in Greensboro, where his .210/.290/.438 line was mostly a product of the hitter-friendly home park.
“It’s definitely been a growing season, mentally,” said Shackelford. “I’ve grown a lot since last year. I failed a lot last year, and didn’t really handle it too well. It just kind of snowballed.”
Shackelford said that he would spiral when he would fail, but this year is having a lot of victory over his self.
“This year I’m able to shut the failure down and move on to the next game,” said Shackelford. “It’s been a pretty great year for that. I’ve seen a lot of growth in that area, which I’m super thankful for.”
Last year was stressful. Shackelford and his wife had their first child, a daughter, which added some pressure off the field.
“There were some other things on my mind,” said Shackelford. “I’m obviously super thankful for that year, it was amazing.”
This year, he said he feels more stable, with not as many moving parts, and more ability to relax when he’s at the field. Shackelford has a better routine at the field, due to preparing his mind better each day.
“That starts for me, spiritually as a Christian, getting in the Bible every morning, and preparing my mind and heart for things that actually matter,” said Shackelford. “Not being so caught up in the failure and success of baseball. But actually putting value in what I would define success as, is faithfulness to God, and honoring him. Which has taken a lot of stress off the actual performance part, and allowed me to just focus on what I can control, which is being prepared and working as hard as I possibly can.”
Shackelford is learning to take comfort in the idea that he’s prepared the best he can, regardless of the results that follow. This allows him to move on from the bad results.
I saw this on the August 18th game against Harrisburg. In the top of the third, Shackelford couldn’t field a line drive, which allowed the go-ahead runner to score. He stuck with the play, trying to get the runner at home, but wasn’t successful. The play was ruled a hit, but could have been an error.
That play didn’t allow Shackelford to spiral. In the bottom half of the inning, he came up to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, and dropped a single into left field to reclaim the lead.
“Last year, I probably would have had a terrible night the rest of the day, and would have allowed that to affect the next day,” said Shackelford. “[This year], I’m able to move on to the next pitch and attack the next pitch.”
Shackelford said that he still fails all the time at allowing mistakes to snowball on him. He’s getting better at recognizing that, and for opportunities to make up for mistakes. In a game where you can fail 70% of the time and be one of the best, learning to move beyond mistakes is often the biggest key for any player.
“It is the worst sport,” Shackelford said about the failure rate in baseball. “I think about soccer. My father has been a soccer coach for 30 years, and when guys are struggling, you just try harder, you know? Just work harder. [In baseball], you can’t. If you try harder on the field, you’re going to end up getting muscly, tight, and failing even more.”
Shackelford said that the key is getting your head out of your way.
The power that he’s shown this year puts Shackelford on the radar to potentially reach the majors one day. He’s been playing first base for the last two years, and is feeling more comfortable at the position this year. First base is his most comfortable position, though he’s played left field and second base. Ultimately, the bat is what would get Shackelford to the big leagues, and hitting is his favorite part of the game.
“Just any way to have an opportunity to be in the lineup,” said Shackelford. “I say a lot that DH is my favorite position, too. I don’t care.”
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.