A year ago Jordan Schafer was being groomed as the potential 2009 opening day center fielder for the Atlanta Braves. And now, a year later, some people seem to be forgetting about the fleet-footed kid from Florida.
Schafer won the job in March, and when the season began in Philadelphia Schafer was right there. He hit a home run that night, and then one two days later.
When the Braves had their home opener on April 10, Schafer had something happen that would change his season. He was hitting in the 10th inning when all of a sudden he felt a pop in his left wrist.
The Braves didn’t believe it was a major injury, so Schafer played through it. He did okay in April, hitting .273 with a .415 on base percentage. It looked like he was ready to take off and be one of the top rookies in the league.
Then May rolled around, and things changed. Schafer struggled mightily, hitting only .158, with a .239 OBP. He was scuffling in the lower part of the order, and on June 1 the Braves demoted Schafer to Triple-A Gwinnett.
But after three games back in the minors, the wrist injury that had lingered had to be treated. Doctors gave him a few weeks off, and then Schafer came back late in June and played six games. But the injury had taken its toll.
The Braves’ medical staff placed Schafer’s wrist in a cast, hoping stabilizing the injury would help. It didn’t, and on August 31 doctors removed a bone spur and stabilized two bones in Schafer’s left hand.
So it’s easy to look back and wonder how the injury affected Schafer’s struggles. Maybe he just struggled cause he struggled, but with that serious of an injury, it’s hard to believe the wrist injury didn’t have some impact on his production.
How could you expect a kid with that type of injury to remain productive? It’s a wonder he hit .158 to be honest with you, especially if the more he played, the more injured the wrist got.
Two days after Schafer was demoted to Gwinnett, the Braves acquired Nate McLouth, who took over center field. That was Schafer’s position.
Will Schafer be handed his job back, once he proves he’s healthy? Probably not. He’s going to have to work for it, and that’s fair. But it seems like there is a danger that people are going to forget about Jordan Schafer.
Don’t. Don’t forget about this kid. He can play. He showed that in March, and even in April when he got off to a very respectable start in his first month in the big leagues.
Schafer showed us his tremendous defensive ability, with great range and perhaps one of the strongest arms in the league. He showed us that he can hit, and like any rookie he was just going to have to show consistency.
But with a bad wrist, there was little chance of that happening.
Plus, Schafer was not put in the right position to succeed at the plate. He was miscast as a number eight hitter. In hindsight, it really didn’t make any sense. Schafer hit .200 in 140 at bats in the number eight hole. He hit .150 batting seventh. But in his seven at bats hitting first and second in the order, Schafer hit .429.
Now that's not enough of a sample to prove he would have done better at the top of the lineup. But that's where Schafer has hit all of his pro career.
Cox’s logic made sense, in a way. He didn’t want to move Schafer up higher in the order while he was struggling. Ok, but how was he suppose to improve hitting eighth? Plus, as a number eight hitter, there was no way Schafer was going to be allowed to use his speed on the bases. So his value, as a number eight hitter, was non-existant.
It would have been different if the Braves had a true leadoff man, but they didn’t. Cox placed Kelly Johnson in the leadoff role, even though Johnson had lost that position in 2008. Johnson hit only .222 as the leadoff man, which you would believe have been enough to at least give Schafer a try in that position.
If Schafer had been given a shot as the leadoff man, he could have showed us his speed. The kid can fly, but again, as the number eight hitter, how much were we going to see that? Not much.
It’s just a shame that a lot of people formed their opinions on Schafer, doubting he could hit after his low average. But is that really fair, considering his wrist was hurt, and considering how he was misplaced in the Atlanta lineup?
So now, when people are projecting the 2010 outfield, you rarely hear Schafer’s name mentioned. And how big a mistake might that be, only because people are judging Schafer on two months when he had a bad wrist?
Let’s hope the Atlanta front office hasn’t forgotten Schafer. Sure, he’s got to come back and prove he is healthy. And the wrist is a tricky injury for a hitter. You’ve got to test it, and see that it’s not going to be something that nags you as you swing the bat a million times a season.
The Braves know Jason Heyward is waiting in the wings, and the uncertainty regarding his timetable is making things tricky enough to plan this winter. It’s hard to justify counting on two young players – one 20-year old, that while a fabulous prospect, is still just that, and then a 23-year old coming off wrist surgery.
Wren has said he hasn’t forgotten about Schafer, but there is no doubt he is planning to find another outfielder (or two) this winter. He could just say, “ok, we’re going with McLouth in center, Heyward in right, and Matt Diaz and Schafer in left field.”
That would just be too risky. Someone has to come in as a right-handed hitter to help that lineup. Maybe Schafer’s wrist will need more time to heal. Maybe Heyward will need more time to develop. You have to take precautions, so that you’re not in a scramble looking for help in the lineup when he season begins.
I’m sure Schafer would understand that. But it doesn’t mean he can’t come to camp to try and win a job. Wren has hinted around that Schafer might need some time in Triple-A next year, and he may be right. But Schafer can still make that decision a bit more difficult if he reminds everyone of his talent next March.
What if Schafer did win a job? Let’s just look for a minute at what the lineup might look like if Schafer and Heyward won jobs in March. The Braves could move McLouth down in the order, and hopefully place Schafer in the top spot in the lineup.
Would it look like this?
Xavier Nady (if he's signed for first base)
How good would that lineup be?
I know that Wren has to bring in another outfielder or two. He just has to. The lineup must protect a pitching staff that could be the best in the game. But I just hope no one forgets Jordan Schafer.
I still believe in his talent. The kid can play. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders I’ve ever seen. I know he can run. And I think he can hit enough to be productive in the lineup.
I just don’t think judging him on the two months last season, when his wrist was messed up, is enough reason to forget about him. And that’s what I’m afraid a lot of people are doing.
So as you think about the pieces that might be in the Braves’ 2010 puzzle, don’t forget about Jordan Schafer.
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 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.