There was a time when Jordan Schafer seemed a key man in the Braves’ organization, and that time was only two years ago. But his most recent at-bat in the majors came May 31, 2009, which tells us how far he’d fallen.
The Braves traded for Nate McLouth three days after dispatching Schafer, who was hitting .204, to the minors. To say that McLouth has underwhelmed since arriving would be understating. He hit .190 last season and was himself sent to Gwinnett, but the parent club never made the call for Schafer in 2010. Instead it traded for Rick Ankiel.
To recap: The Braves preferred the likes of McLouth and Ankiel to the homegrown prospect they’d liked so much in spring 2009 they made him their starting center fielder coming out of spring training. But now Ankiel is gone and McLouth is hurt and the Braves have promoted Schafer.
In his first series as a big-leaguer, Schafer hit two home runs. (The first came in his first at-bat, off Brett Myers on Opening Night in Philadelphia.) He has hit four in the 25 months since. He lasted only nine minor-league games after his 2009 demotion before a nagging wrist — he’d hurt it in his fourth big-league game but didn’t alert his superiors — ended his season. He had surgery in September, but 2010 was scarcely better. He was sent from Class AAA Gwinnett to Class AA Mississippi in midsummer and hit .201 overall.
Back at Gwinnett this season, Schafer has hit .256 in 42 games with one homer and 21 RBIs. His issue in 2009 was striking out — he did it 63 times in 167 big-league at-bats — and he has done a bit better this season: Twenty-eight strikeouts in 164 at-bats. (Still, his on-base percentage is .309, which isn’t good at any level.)
In 2009 Schafer was the No. 3 prospect in the organization, behind Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward. Today he’s a 24-year-old who’s being summoned only because the Braves were out of outfielders. It’s unclear how much he’ll be asked to play, but he figures to get his chances.
He wasn’t quite ready in 2009, which wasn’t all his fault. (The Braves’ other center field options were Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson.) Neither was getting hurt. But little Schafer has done of late has made the Braves sit up and take note. If he’s to have any future with the team that drafted him back in 2005, it would behoove him to seize this day.
By Mark Bradley