Four years ago many were ready to tag Jordan Schafer as the center fielder of the future for the Atlanta Braves. Now at the age of 26, with a stint in Houston under his belt, Schafer finally appears ready for that prominent role.
When the Braves signed Schafer in November of 2012, the move was purely an attempt at depth as Atlanta seemed poised to make a splash in the free agent market. Sure enough, the Braves signed B.J. Uptona few weeks later to an eye-popping 5-year deal worth $75 million. By all indications, if Schafer made the big league roster he would serve as a utility outfielder with a little pop off the bench and a good burst of late-game speed. After being placed on waivers by the league’s worst franchise, though, it was a start.
Schafer took advantage of the opportunity and rode a .242 Spring Training batting average to a spot on the opening day roster. From there, he has never looked back.
Through 101 plate appearances this season, Schafer is hitting .313 and has worked hard to cut down on strikeouts, with just 22. In addition to just 22 strikeouts thus far, Schafer has walked 16 times en route to a .424 On Base Percentage. Compare those numbers to the .146 batting average and .232 On Base Percentage that everyday center fielder B.J. Upton currently maintains and you’ve got a no-brainer for a switch in the depth chart. Well, not exactly, considering the Braves’ investment in Upton and Schafer’s abundant struggle against left handed pitching, but it does make for an interesting story.
Schafer, who ran into trouble multiple times in his minor league journey, was written off by many in the baseball world after a drug arrest and subsequent felony charges in October of 2011. The arrest was the second major incident for Schafer, who was suspended for 50 games during the 2008 minor league season after testing positive for Human Growth Hormones. With multiple umpire altercations also on his record, another incident could have spelled the end of a once promising career had the Braves not taken a second chance on the speedy outfielder. For both parties, it’s clear that the move has paid off.
In the clubhouse and on the field, Schafer is said to have matured and has seen marked improvements in both his production and his playing time. Schafer had seen extended playing time in the absence of Jason Heyward earlier this season and is now getting an opportunity to spell the struggling Upton. While he might not ever pan out to be the All Star caliber outfielder that Atlanta expected when they brought him up from AA Mississippi to start the 2009 season, Schafer does have the ability to serve as one of the league’s most talented late-game options, and with the struggles of both Upton and Heyward through the first third of the season, Schafer gives Fredi Gonzalez a reliable option against right handed starters. It’s too early to call it a success, but as it stands now, I’d say the second time’s a charm.