"I don't really see myself as a home run hitter, I see myself as a gap power guy, but the ball has really been flying down here, and that's always nice."
Chris Shelton might be the very definition of 'talk softly and carry a big stick.' He might not see himself as a home run hitter, but anyone watching batting practice, or the games Shelton plays in the Arizona Fall League as a member of the Grand Canyon Rafters would probably disagree. In fact Shelton my be the best pure hitter in the Fall League. Through Friday he was leading the league in batting average (.442), second in homers (4) and RBI (17), tied for first in doubles and on base percentage, tied for second in hits. He's also leading in slugging percentage.
All that, and Shelton doesn't want to talk about offense. "I'm focusing on defense down here, because I don't want to be a one dimensional player. I don't want to be a guy you have to hide on the field. Defense is a huge part of the game, and down here its the biggest part of my game."
Shelton spent a good portion of last season in the big leagues with the Tigers, and considers that experience invaluable. Corey Patterson of the Chicago Cubs was quoted as saying, "There are certain things you can't learn in the minors, you can only learn them in the majors," does Shelton agree? "Absolutely. You can only learn so much in the minor leagues. Things are just different in the majors, and you can only learn them by being with the big league club." Some might have argued that Shelton would have been better off getting more at bats in AAA than riding the pine in the majors, but he disagrees. "There was a real team effort in Detroit to help me. Dmitri Young and Rondell White were both huge for me, just working with me in the cage on my swing, showing me stuff about different pitchers. There's nothing like a major league hitter teaching you things. Once you get to the big leagues it is the only place you want to be. It's everything." Shelton isn't assured a spot on the Tigers' roster next season, but if he does go to the minors to start the season, would that bother him? "I'm going into Spring Training looking to force the Tigers' hand. If I play well enough then they have to put me on the roster, and if after that they send me to the minors at least I'll be able to say I worked as hard as I could, and I'll go where they send me and play hard there and try to get back. I'll be able to say I worked as hard as I could and I gave everything."
For Shelton the AFL is a little bigger than it might be for some of the other players. "This really is my season. I didn't get a lot of at bats with the Tigers, so this is my opportunity to play every day, get into a rhythm and get my at bats."
Shelton is a rarity in the AFL, a player with bona fide big league experience. "At the beginning there were guys asking me what it was like, asking for advice and stuff, but that's kind of calmed down. Everybody's gone to work now, and we're all trying to get there." For Shelton, it would be getting back, and with his bat, he's almost sure to do so.
James Renwick is the Managing Editor of FutureBacks.com, part of the Scout.com MLB Netowrk.