Braves need McLouth or Schafer to end looniness in center

Can either Jordan Schafer or Nate McLouth bounce back from their misery of 2010? (Jason Getz/AJC)

Can Jordan Schafer and/or Nate McLouth bounce back from misery of 2010? (Jason Getz/AJC)

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Given the recent episodes of exploding craniums in center field, the Braves may want to seek special dispensation from league officials to allow a therapist and maybe a couch in center this season.

Nate McLouth is one candidate to start. He started last season hitting .168, was sent down to Gwinnett and now admits, with the advantage of hindsight and bed rest: “It was like a runaway train. The harder I worked, the more I worried about it. It was like paralysis by analysis.”

The other candidate is Jordan Schafer,  a former solid gold prospect whose career bullet points include a suspension, a wrist injury, overconfidence, underconfidence and a double-demotion — from the majors to Triple-A to Double-A — six seasons following his draft class. Schafer said in understatement: “When you’re used to doing things one way and then suddenly you feel handicapped, it’s taxing mentally.”

There are people in rubber rooms with plastic forks who don’t feel so taxed.

Remember, this is center field we’re talking about. For 10 seasons, Andruw Jones started all but 56 games in center for the Braves (and those 56 were divided among eight others). In the last three seasons, the Braves have had 11 different starters in center, with seven starting at least 27 games: McLouth, Schafer, Mark Kotsay, Gregor Blanco, Melky Cabrera, Rick Ankiel and Josh Anderson.

This has not been the position of stability.

Schafer was expected to be the next great thing. McLouth was expected to be the bridge to the next great thing.

We’re still waiting on both developments.

“I’m sure every player in this game would like to forget one year in his career,” Schafer said. “Last year was that year for both of us.”

He gets points for summation.

The Braves don’t need either McLouth or Schafer to be an All-Star. They just can’t afford another year of meltdowns or shuttle service to Gwinnett.

If you’re wondering which to bet on, it’s McLouth. We’re way past the point of assuming anything about Schafer. McLouth at least had a resume in Pittsburgh. His 2008 season included 46 doubles, 26 homers, 94 RBI.

I know. Hard to imagine.

McLouth showed up at spring training with long blonde hair that had a particular shine to it, so much so that it appeared to have highlights.

“Only two people in the world know that, and it will remain that way, I hope,” he said.

Dude can have a pink mohawk with a green stripe if he can get on base. It would mean manager Fredi Gonzalez can bat him leadoff or second (behind Martin Prado). Follow that with Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward and suddenly the Braves have as good a lineup as anybody. If he fizzles again, the top-of-the-order scramble is on again.

So far in spring, the edge goes to McLouth: He is 3-for-5 and has reached base eight times (three hits, three walks, twice hit by a pitch) in 10 plate appearances. Schafer had an RBI single Tuesday but is only 2-for-10.

McLouth called last season, “The hardest thing I’ve been through in my life.” When the season ended, he sat in front of his locker and came to a realization.

“I thought, I can go one of two ways here: I can let this ruin me and drain all of my confidence or I can regroup and come back to camp confident and be the type of player that I have been in the past.”

McLouth acknowledges he hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence among fans and says criticism is justified.

“It’s made my skin thicker,” he said. “I have a ton to prove this year.”

They both do. Center field has been a black hole.

By Jeff Schultz

Previous posts from Braves’ camp

ESPN’s Buster Olney: Braves may beat out Phillies in East

Braves’ Lee Elia knows hitting (and what not to say anymore)

Chipper Jones gets hit in return and takes a swing at critics

Braves camp: Chipper’s return, Uggla’s debut, Cox’s spring ejection

Braves hoping to recreate chemistry from 2010 season

So what does Freddie Freeman (3 doubles) do for an encore?

Digi-Blog goes to Braves’  spring training at Disney (they charge, I don’t)

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

94 comments Add your comment

Double Zero Eight

March 1st, 2011
3:38 pm

I have more confidence in Schafer than I do in McLouth.
I have more confidence in Andruw Jones than I do in McLouth.
It would have been nice to get Jones back here as a utility
outfielder.

Herschel Talker

March 1st, 2011
3:44 pm

Schultzie:

Amen, amigo. We can’t afford more sub-Mendoza BS from these guys. This is our year now that braindead Cox has retired.

HT

Hollywould

March 1st, 2011
3:45 pm

Mclouth looked awful in the field last year.

PMC

March 1st, 2011
3:49 pm

I actually have a healthy bit of confidence for both players. McClouth had a career year in Pittsburgh when he went to the ASG. I don’t expect that, but there is no reason to expect him not to bounce back steal bases, play a solid CF and hit in the middle .200’s. He’s a solid major leaguer and I expect that. He’s well overpaid for his production, but it happens. Would love to see him have another career year.

Schafer’s struggles are well known. He just needs to stay healthy and play ball. If he’s healthy I think we can expect him to play good defense and be a decent productive player.

Neither guy is going to remind anyone of Andrew Jones….but that was a great 10 years. The Braves have not done a good job of stocking the outfield with talent. They haven’t drafted enough quality outfielders.

Nightmare on Hank Street

March 1st, 2011
3:51 pm

I’m sick of McClouth not throwing the ball to the infield when someones tagging up and doing a stupid little hop and just watching them advance bases while lolly popping the ball in. THROW THE BALL!

PMC

March 1st, 2011
3:51 pm

Kind of odd though they trade Blanco just when he was starting to play better for two absolute scrubs in Farnsworth and Ankiel.

Talk about wishing and hoping…

Greg White wasn’t going to be an answer long term… but man, Farnsworth? Ankiel? Really????

Paul H

March 1st, 2011
3:55 pm

“In the last three seasons, the Braves have had 11 different starters in center.”

I mean honestly.

AceUnderwood

March 1st, 2011
3:57 pm

I’m rooting for “190!” Struggled mightily yes, but he’s been pretty classy about his moves. Unlike Frenchy who bitched and moaned when he stunk up the Ted and was sent to the minors for a cup of coffee….that was when he lost me.

HPSP

March 1st, 2011
3:58 pm

That earlier Buster Olney piece was you being the “good cop.” But I love it when you’re being the “bad cop,” Jeff.

loogy

March 1st, 2011
3:58 pm

love the one flew over the cuckoo’s nest reference, schultz!

Jamaaliver

March 1st, 2011
4:09 pm

Schultz, how did McLouth during last pre-season in comparison? Is he hitting, looking, playing better than this time a year ago?

ncb34

March 1st, 2011
4:25 pm

i have to say, mclouth never quit or lashed out on any fans or anyone who has critisised him. he’s just continued to work harder. i support nate, and hope he will be the comeback player of the year, not for the braves sake, but for himself. good luck Nate.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 1st, 2011
4:36 pm

At the beginning of the season last year, McLouth wasn’t fully recovered from his injury from the year before, then he got the concussion and things snow-balled downhill from there. After he came back up from Gwinnett, he hit .263 (.168 before being sent down), cut his strike outs down from 1 for every 3.85 times at bat to 1 about every 6 times at bat, better than doubled his RBI production per at bat, kept his walk totals about the same and stole one less base in more than twice as many at bats. He has speed and that never goes into a slump. Through it all, he never sulked, whined, or complained. He’s never going to be a superstar but I believe he can be a good solid player. I’m pulling for him to bounce back.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

March 1st, 2011
4:41 pm

i have no confidence in either schafer or nate unless proven otherwise. we’ll know more after the first month of the season.

Stinger2

March 1st, 2011
4:42 pm

Jeff: Good story. I don`t care which one of these two
wins out over the other. Just hope one of them can become a starter and bring some reasonable power stats to the lineup as all outfielders should do.

EW

March 1st, 2011
4:44 pm

Looniness, lowlyness, lousiness….the list of made up adjectives goes on to describe our CF situation

collegeballfan

March 1st, 2011
4:51 pm

Nice column Jeff. I am pulling for both to force Gonzalez seek out a palm reader to decide who to start.

Sonny Clusters

March 1st, 2011
4:52 pm

Jeff, was you suggesting these two are crazy? Would that explain why McLouth won’t throw the ball to in to keep a runner from advancing and Schafer won’t go deer hunting with Chipper? Which one would make the best Buck Commander?

Arthur Redding, Jr.

March 1st, 2011
5:26 pm

Agree with you on all counts, Jeff.

Schafer appears to be in tip-top physical condition. But my thinking is that it’s going to take a while to get his bat tuned up and that Fredi will get him as many at-bats as possible during spring season. My guess is that Fredi may be willing to platoon McLouth and Shafer in the first part of the regular season and see if one of them asserts himself enough to earn the role of regular starter.

I’ll take .265, 60-70 RBI’s, 20 stolen bases, solid defensive play out of the CF position in a heartbeat.

My biggest dream is that they’ll both play well and McLouth can move over to left when Prado fills in at 3rd base. I like the back-ups, Hinske and Mather. But if Chipper goes down, it’s hard to get too excited about those two being the regular left-fielders.

lanier

March 1st, 2011
5:28 pm

trade them both for a real ball player

Fredi's Fu Manchu

March 1st, 2011
5:34 pm

Need Schafer’s defense. Simple as that. Up the middle this team is brutallly bad. McCann, Uggla and AGon are staying put. Only way to improve up the middle is w/ Schafer. Nate is a serviceable left fielder in mlb – no where near a decent CF. On top of that, w/ Prado in LF the D from CF becomes more important. Schafer is an easy decision. No disrespect to Nate, but don’t we all know he’ll be playing in KC next year – ’nuff said.

Phillisux

March 1st, 2011
5:35 pm

I won’t be surprised to see either Nate or Jordan have a decent to very good year. As far as Andruw Jones, I think he continues to drift from team to team for a few more years, then retires as one of the best defensive center fielders during his prime who never lived up to his vast potential as a complete player.

Skeezix

March 1st, 2011
5:48 pm

CF is definitely the one big question mark the Braves have at the start of 2011. If neither one works out, then FW needs to fix it quickly.

"Chef" Tim Dix

March 1st, 2011
5:50 pm

Before it’s said and done Schaf will push Mcclouth.

It will be a win, win.

Or, according to most, Cheffy needs to dish the rose colored glasses.

Mark (another one)

March 1st, 2011
5:52 pm

I believe the best scenario is for Chipper to stay healthy and Nate in center hitting .280 and playing solid defense. I’d like it better if he could get a high OBP and set the table for the meat of the lineup.

That would allow Jordon to play every day in AAA and continue to develop. Nothing against Jordon but I think he needs to show he can play a complete season. We have others to play left when Prado moves to third and Chipper rests. That can keep Mather and Hienske sharp and all four rested.

We don’t need to CFs in the majors.

headley lamar

March 1st, 2011
5:59 pm

Can you imagine if the Tech baseball player who got a DUI a few days ago had been a UGA football player?

Oh the indignation !!!

Instead we got a short story with no place to comment.

Double standard. You betcha.

John Fogerty

March 1st, 2011
6:01 pm

Beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today

We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field

Rounding third, headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man

Anyone can understand the way I feel

Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play today

Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play today

Look at me, I can be centerfield

I spent some time in the mudville nine, watching it from the bench

I took some lumps when the mighty casey struck out

Say hey Willie, tell Ty Cobb and Joe Dimaggio

Don’t say it ain’t so. You know the time is now

Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play today

Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play today

Look at me, I can be centerfield

Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes

I think it’s time to give this game a ride

Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all, a moment in the sun

It’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye

Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play today

Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play today

Look at me, I can be centerfield

Vain Jangling

March 1st, 2011
6:03 pm

McLouth or Schafer? That’s like a hobson’s choice stuck between a dilemma, a rock, a hard place, and a quandary. And other assorted synonyms. Reluctantly, I’m throwing in with the Schafer crowd. McLouth is here because of his 2008 season in Pittsburgh. I’m not a stat guy, but he had career highs in average, OBP, SLG, OPS, runs, hits, dougles, HRs, and well over twice as many RBIs as in any other year. The result? A big contract and the trade to ATL. Advantage Pittsburgh. He’s not going to come anywhere near those numbers again. Plus, he turns 30 this year. But neither player is anything near a long term option. I agree with PMC @ 3:49 p.m. Other than Heyward, the Braves haven’t done a very good job over the past few years developing any top talent out of the minors.

But enough of this idle chit chat. PLAY BALL!

idot

March 1st, 2011
6:09 pm

I think that McLouth and Shafer will have big seasons, each one will hit a lot of HRs, steal a lot of bases, and score a bunch of runs.
I wouldn’t compare either one to Andruw Jones, because Jordan and McLouth always hustle and play as hard as they can, when they are in the game.

Billmelater

March 1st, 2011
6:10 pm

Jeff what happen to Matt Young? He’s not trying to win CF job?
Schafer has had 13 good weeks in 3 years and some people have more confidence in him. Schafer has also started three of 4 games…why not give Young , Ramirez and Constanza a chance? Schafer needs to go to AAA for at least a couple months…Let him earn what he gets like the others we don’t want another Frenchy.
Hope Nate turns it around this year…….Go Braves.

the wayner

March 1st, 2011
6:13 pm

one in cf and the other in lf when prado is playing 3b,and we call that a BOOOYA!!!

gator fan

March 1st, 2011
6:15 pm

h-lamar@5:59..it was not few days it was Feb 3 (month) and it has nothing to do with football are UGA. But dawgs like to bark…so have at it. really a non-story.

Sonny Clusters

March 1st, 2011
6:47 pm

We was thinking Jeff must have put this thing on automatic and is not coming back tonight. That’s what happens when he blogs about looniness. It brings out the loonies. We was not including ourselves in that. Everybody knows a Clusters is no loonie. And whatever happened to Chino Cadahia? We was hoping he’d land a good job after getting axed by Fredi.

Larry

March 1st, 2011
6:58 pm

The best lineup has BOTH playing and Chipper nursing a sore ear lobe on the disabled list.

1. Schafer CF
2. Prado 3B
3. Uggla 2B
4. McCann C
5. Heyward RF
6. Gonzales SS
7. Freeman 1B
8. McClouth LF

Having Chipper in the lineup–even if healthy–weakens this team defensively in center Schafer is better than McClouth), in left (McLouth is better there than Prado), and 3B (Prado is better there than Chipper)

Also, having Chipper batting 3rd pushes out the better Uggla in this spot, and by forcing Prado in left reduces a more versatile and fast lineup with both McClouth and Schafer running the bases.

Now is the time to bring Chipper off the bench and for the occasional start at 3rd. We are a better all around TEAM doing this, but likely our new manager doesn’t have the courage to make this tough but necessary call.

The Grinch

March 1st, 2011
7:00 pm

Schafer is going to be fine and be our CF of the future. He may not start ’till mid-season though and I hope Nate can at least be reasonably productive that long. If both are struggling at the plate Schafer can at least give us some defense.

jfreak13713

March 1st, 2011
7:07 pm

I’m pulling for Nate. He seems like a good man who never blamed anyone for his troubles. He took his demotion like a man and came back late last year and seemed to have turned things around a little. We could really use both Schafer and Nate to play well in case Chipper goes down, but if my choice is one over the other I’ll put my money on Nate as he has proven he can do it. Schafer is speculation at best.

bulldog bubba

March 1st, 2011
7:09 pm

wELCOME bACK sONNY cLUSTERS, wE MISSED yOUR wISDOM tHIS wINTER.jEFF pROBABLY wENT tO sHAVE hIS lEGS.

jfreak13713

March 1st, 2011
7:10 pm

Oh, and please stop with the Chipper being a liability for this team stuff! He is Chipper for God’s sake and he has help build this orginization for the sewer to still one of the best in baseball. Nobody on this team has produce like Chipper! Nobody on this team is a hall of famer like Chipper. Nobody on this team took less money to stay with this team at the PEAK of his career. He is Chipper!

Vain Jangling

March 1st, 2011
7:35 pm

Sorry, Jeff. It seems like this is one of those, “Hello, is there anybody in there?” topics. I don’t get it. Come mid-summer, and there’s either a sucking sound in centerfield or there isn’t, the faithful will be singing a different tune, either way.

My advice? Besides the usual (”Drink heavily”), is to get off the centefield fence! While hope springs eternal, you’re always entitled to bitch about it first!

Anyways, I smell a platoon in center.

And BTW, who cares if the NFL chokes on itself!

PLAY BALL!

Hurt Kurbstreit

March 1st, 2011
7:35 pm

I’ve got my fingers cross and hoping that both McLouth and Shafer have good to great years. We need them both. I think Chipper will be good most of the year, with a slight loss in power, but will also have to deal with injuries. That’s why we need both of those guys playing good so one can move over to LF when Prado has to go to 3rd base.

Ghost of Jim Zabel

March 1st, 2011
7:43 pm

McClouth looks like “Hollywood” from Remember the Titans….let’s hope he brings his A game this year.

I know it’s not his natural position…but I’d take Matt Diaz playing in CF ANYDAY over McClouth and Schafer.

toomers is for losers

March 1st, 2011
7:46 pm

1) The team is better with Chipper in the lineup. Anyone saying he is a liability doesn’t understand baseball.
2) Bobby Cox was THE reason the team succeeded last year. If the team wins this year, it is because the team is better and/or healthier, NOT because of a managerial change. Anyone saying otherwise doesn’t understand baseball.
GOT IT?

BravesWin

March 1st, 2011
7:51 pm

No bigger bullseye than the one on CF. Settling (or not settling) that position will make or break 2011 for the Braves. Most everything else looks copacetic. Ideally, we get a resurgent McLouth paving the way for what Jordan can do…

Stinky

March 1st, 2011
8:29 pm

At least neither cf’er suggested that disillusioned fans could kiss a certain orifice…

BravesWin

March 1st, 2011
8:33 pm

Your’re stink on, Stinky. The Chipster has quite a history of dissing fans over the years. I’m pulling for him, but I wish he’d just shut up and get up there and do his freaking job…

Gumby

March 1st, 2011
8:45 pm

I’ll be the optimist here….I have faith in both to have a great year. And no I’m not on crack, or anything, I just have a good feeling about these two. Neither is a quitter and both have been good players in the past. Both had nagging injuries…sort of like the Braves in general last year when it looked like we had a voodoo curse on our health. If they both come back strong Fredi will have fun with the bench.

Larry

March 1st, 2011
8:51 pm

toomers is for losers,

On both your points, the opposite is true…and I played the game 9 years!

Got it?

Alaska Braves Fan

March 1st, 2011
9:12 pm

Last year, during spring training, I mentioned several times that I was seriously concerned about McLouth. Some of that was based on his actual, poor, performance, and some of it was just gut. I’m feeling pretty good about the fact that I saw that coming, though I’m really sorry it happened. (I LIKE McLouth!) This year, I have a different feeling. I think Nate will perform offensively near his pre-Atlanta averages, and Schafer will break out this year. The Braves may have one too many major-league-quality outfielders.

Also, keep an eye on Hinske. He’s out of the box strong this year, and I think he’ll keep it up. If Jason, Nate, Jordan, Martin, and Hinske all are performing at high levels, where do you put them? It gets easier if Chipper goes down, but what if he too is back to near his old levels? You may think, this is a good problem to have, and it certainly beats not having anyone step up. Still, it is a problem.

When everyone is going very, very well, you hate to see anyone sitting. This may be a very good year.

ABF

Dr. Phil

March 1st, 2011
9:13 pm

I am tempted to be sarcastic, but I will just wish both Schaffer and McLouth luck. If the Braves’ CF is batting under .200 in September, we can write off the post season. Somebody has got to step up. Where is Smoltzy’s psychiatrist?

Horner's Corner

March 1st, 2011
9:13 pm

Seriously, is that all you got? If you guys can’t find anything else to write about then maybe there should be a bit less coverage of the Braves.