A week ago Braves’ outfield prospect Jordan Schafer was indicted and convicted all in the same day. There was not much due process when Major League Baseball suspended Schafer for 50 games for the use of HGH. Instead, it was just a quick call to go home for almost two months.
Schafer is known as a workout warrior, a kid who loved the weight room and was dedicated to preparing his body for a big league career. But now people will always wonder how much he was doing and what he was doing it with.
We still don’t know the details of what got Schafer caught. I think it’s imperative that the Braves allow Schafer to tell his story one day, hopefully sooner rather than later. Why? Well first, he probably wants to, and his side of the story might make easier for what will be a rocky road for him after he gets back.
And make no mistake about it, Jordan Schafer is going to have a rocky road. When he goes into an opposing team's stadium he’s probably going to hear it from the fans. You can almost imagine people chanting ‘HGH’ at him when he comes to the plate. And even when he’s at home in Mississippi, the reception will be better, but the whispers will still be there.
You have to wonder how long those whispers will last. If Schafer comes back and plays well, maybe he’ll quiet the talk very quickly. If he doesn’t, people are going to wonder if he can play well without the help of the substance he got caught with.
It’s still shocking that Schafer, of all people, is caught up in all of this. This kid was a pitcher in high school, one that Braves’ scout Gregg Kilby believed would make an even greater outfielder. He possessed a strong arm and an interesting bat that Kilby believed could develop in a few years to where Schafer would become a serious prospect.
Schafer’s first year in Rome, expectedly, was a struggle. It was his first full season in pro ball, which is tough even for someone that has been an outfielder his whole life. But along with the rigors of playing in the first full season, Schafer was also learning to become a position player.
At times that season in Rome, especially early on, Schafer looked lost. He was clearly struggling at the plate, but as the season progressed scouts also saw a kid truly developing into a pretty good outfielder. His arm strength was there, and Schafer’s instincts were something that you just didn’t expect from someone known more as a pitcher.
When he got to the Instructional League in 2006 it was obvious Schafer had truly turned a corner. All of a sudden, coaches and scouts were recognizing that Schafer had special talent. You could see potential for offensive improvement, and again, the defense was something to see.
Schafer was sent back to Rome to start 2007, which was somewhat a surprise since he had a pretty decent spring training. But the Braves wanted him to achieve some success in the Sally League before moving up to Myrtle Beach. Schafer did just that, hitting .372 with five home runs and 20 RBI in thirty games.
But that success was really not a surprise. For those that had seen Schafer in Instructs and then in spring training, it was expected to be a season for Schafer to make a name for himself and become a top prospect. Now was it surprising when he went to Myrtle Beach and hit .294 with 10 home runs in 436 at bats? Well, sure, a little, but for the most part it showed many how special a talent Jordan Schafer was developing into as a prospect.
Now, however, people are going to ask the question: Did he get better because of something he was taking? And did the use of HGH coincide with his improvement as a prospect? Unfortunately for Schafer, his suspension makes these questions logical ones to ask.
That is unfortunate, cause this kid can play. I don’t see how HGH could improve the instincts Schafer has in center field. He reads the ball off the bat as well as Andruw Jones did in his prime. And he’s a kid so dedicated to becoming a solid offensive player that he spent a good chunk of his signing bonus on a $75,000 indoor batting cage.
Schafer has talent, and despite proving it in the last twelve months, he’s going to have to prove it all over again.
Regardless of whether he’s guilty or innocent, Schafer’s going to have to forget about what happened to him. He’s going to have to come out and play, and allow his talent and his performance prove to everyone that he is, in fact, a legit prospect for the majors.
The Braves are going to have to obviously play a major role in this ‘recovery’ of Schafer’s career, and it is going to have to recover. While they have to be clear in their zero tolerance for whatever he did wrong, they are also going to have to help Schafer get through what will undoubtedly be a very tough summer.
Fans are going to wonder. His teammates are going to wonder. Everybody watching him is going to wonder. They’ll wonder about a lot of things now about Jordan Schafer. He has opened himself up to that by this suspension.
Minor leaguers are often very fragile. Passing the test of the minor leagues is never easy, and part of that exam is about the mental toughness one has to have to make it to the highest level. But now Schafer is going to have an even tougher challenge, and the Braves must help him.
Again, part of that should include him telling his story, even if it’s tough to tell. Schafer must be contrite if he needs to be and honest about what he’s done here. He’s done something; we’re just not sure what it is. But telling his teammates and the fans what it was will only help him deal with this and get past it so he can move on with his career.
That’s got to be the most important thing – that Jordan Schafer can move on with his career. He’s too young and too talented to write off because of this. What a shame it would be if such a gifted athlete was permanently scarred due to this indiscretion.
But it’s entirely up to Jordan Schafer. He has the power and the ability to make this go away. If he comes back and plays well, those whispers will be silenced. But if this haunts him and he allows it to affect him, a once-promising career could be sidetracked because of a serious mistake.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.