By JAY LeBLANC
June 12, 2008
John Shelby III spent a lot of time around big leaguers as a kid, and when you watch him play, it’s obvious he kept his eyes and ears open. The son of 11-year major league veteran John Shelby now plays for the White Sox’ advanced Class A Carolina League affiliate, the Winston-Salem Warthogs, and brings solid baseball instincts and a good work ethic to the park each day in addition to his wide array of skills. Baseball America has taken notice, ranking the 22-year-old as Chicago’s No. 8 prospect.
Shelby was selected in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB draft following an outstanding collegiate career at the University of Kentucky. He signed quickly and adjusted well to pro ball that summer, hitting .272 with eight home runs in 66 games with the Great Falls Voyagers of the Rookie-level Pioneer League. He really started to flash his potential last season with the Kannapolis Intimidators of the Class A South Atlantic League, hitting .301 with 16 home runs and 79 RBI while also swiping 19 bases. After missing time due to injury early this season, Shelby is solidifying his top prospect status with another impressive campaign. Although his average is down a bit at .263, he has seven round-trippers to his credit so far - including three in one game - and has stolen 15 bases, nearly matching his 2007 total with two and a half months left in the season.
Like many young hitters, Shelby strikes out a little too much (45 in 179 at bats this season) and walks less than the White Sox would probably like him to (10 walks so far in 2008), but those are the kinds of deficiencies often remedied by experience. The only other major question mark with Shelby is what position he’ll end up playing. He was drafted as a second baseman and split time between second and short during his first pro season in 2006. After splitting time between second base, center field and right field in 2007, he’s played about half his games in left field and served as the designated hitter in the rest so far in 2008. I recently had a chance to speak with Shelby:
Q: What was your first reaction when you found out you’d been drafted by the White Sox? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: I had no idea, man. I never talked to any of the White Sox dudes when I was at U.K. The guy who drafted me, Mike Shirley, said that he was at the games a lot at U.K. but I never recognized his face or anything. But my reaction was, let’s get this thing going. They were champions - they won it all the year before, so it feels nice to play for a World Series team.
Q: You faced solid competition during your three years at the University of Kentucky. How did your time there prepare you for your pro career?
A: The SEC is one of the best leagues in the country, and it definitely prepared me pretty well. You see the same type of pitching you see here in the minor leagues, so I felt pretty well prepared.
Q: You’ve played second base and the outfield while also seeing time at D.H. as a pro. What position do you think you’ll end up at in the long run?
A: Probably somewhere in the outfield. I have a pretty good arm, and they want to utilize my speed. I like second base - I like being around the action - but they said that they see my future in the outfield, so any of the outfield positions or pretty much wherever they want me to play, I’ll go out there and play.
Q: Could you describe your approach at the plate? Do you come into an at bat looking for a specific pitch, or do you just react to what’s thrown?
A: I sit on a fastball and just react to the other things - with two strikes, I try to go the other way a little more. Right now, I’m still trying to find that approach - I’m still a little uneasy at the plate, but I’m getting more comfortable.
Q: What’s your favorite aspect of the game - is it hitting, baserunning or defense?
A: A little bit of everything, man. I don’t really focus on one thing; I like to do it all. I like to utilize a lot of my game - pretty much all aspects of the game, I like to go out there and do it.
Q: What are some of the aspects of your game that you’re trying to work on this year?
A: Two-strike approach is the big thing I’m working on right now. Going to the right side a little more; I can always do that. And just sitting back, just relaxing a little more and enjoying the game.
Q: How much of a role did your father play in your development as a baseball player?
A: Oh, big time, man - him and my mom, I talk to them every single day after every game. Of course, my dad’s been there, done that, and my mom, she was right with him along the way so they can both give me valuable information.
Q: Did you spend a lot of time around the big league clubhouse as a kid?
A: (Laughs) Every summer. We’d leave school early and go out there with my dad, and go do what we had to do. It was a real good opportunity.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the White Sox?
A: Whenever they give me the call, man. If they want to call me up this September I’ll be ready to go. I’ll be ready to go whenever. But realistically, I’ve still got some things I need to work on down here, and hopefully I’ll get the call soon.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Amanda Rice