Monday’s trade of outfielder Josh Anderson to the Detroit Tigers paved the way for the Atlanta Braves to hand Jordan Schafer the starting center field job.
A year ago, the Braves believed Schafer would take over for Andruw Jones at some point in the 2008 season. They brought in Oakland’s Mark Kotsay to bridge the gap, which allowed Schafer to get a bit more development in the minor leagues.
But then Schafer was suspended in April for Human Growth Hormone. It put the brakes on his major league track, and instantly made people wonder if he was, indeed, a legitimate prospect.
When Schafer returned from his 50-game hiatus, he heard the fans. There’s nothing like a few inebriated college kids at a minor league game to humble a player a bit. Schafer struggled at first, hitting only .251 in his first 187 at-bats back from the suspension. But then in August, Schafer showed why the Braves never lost faith, as he hit .323 in 99 at-bats with six home runs.
Back in Winter Haven, Fla., Schafer was a hot-shot high school left-handed pitcher. Most big league teams liked him on the mound, but the Braves selected him in the third round of the 2005 draft as an outfielder. They liked his athleticism and his arm, and they felt his bat would come around.
Schafer’s first full season was a struggle. He hit only .240 in Rome, but the Braves remained patient. It was after the 2006 season, in the fall Instructional League, where Schafer turned a corner.
The next season, Schafer continued to show improvement with the bat, hitting .312 with 15 home runs between Rome and Myrtle Beach. Schafer’s defense continued to shine, letting the Braves know he had a chance to be special.
Then last spring, Schafer came into camp cocky and made his future teammates wonder who he really was. There’s nothing more a veteran hates than seeing a prospect who really hasn’t done anything believe he’s the real deal. Show them on the field, not by walking around the clubhouse with a strut.
The suspension changed all of that. Schafer came to camp this spring wanting to make an impression. Coaches immediately noticed a difference. Instead of the cockiness, there was a confidence. Schafer knew he had the chance to change a lot of minds.
He did that by hitting the ball well in Florida from day one. Taking a week off with a shoulder problem did nothing to slow Schafer down, and in the past few weeks, he has been hitting near .400 in the Grapefruit League.
Schafer’s great spring made the Braves ask the toughest question a front office has to answer: is this prospect ready for the big leagues?
“The primary consideration any time you have a young player making the jump is, are they ready emotionally and are they ready physically?” general manager Frank Wren said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt Jordan is ready physically to play at the major league level. But the emotional part is a much bigger test than the physical.”
And with his improved attitude this spring, Schafer showed the Braves he is ready for the challenge. He is going to struggle a bit, all rookies do. But just wait until you see Schafer cover the territory in center field or show off his tremendous arm. You’ll realize what a good decision the Braves made in trading Anderson and giving Schafer the job.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.