In 2009, the Braves thought they had their center fielder of the future in the 22-year-old Jordan Schafer. He hit a home run in his first at bat against the Philidelphia Phillies and the future seemed bright, but then something happened. From an onlookers perspective, it looked like he wanted to hit everything out of the ballpark, which led to an uppercut in his swing. That uppercut eventually led to Jordan Schafer’s demise, as he was sent down after striking out in 37% of his at bats.
Schafer was sent down and promptly got injured to end his 2009 campaign. In 2010, Jason Heywad got all the headlines from the Braves outfield, while Jordan Schafer got slapped with a 50-game penalty for using a banned substance. When Schafer returned to play, he struggled to hit above the Mendoza Line (.201) for the Gwinnett Braves. Schafer was once one of the brightest stars in the game, but had absolutely fizzled out in 2010 to a point where many wondered if he would play again.
In 2011, he showed up to the Braves camp and took notes from Chipper Jones (who better?) about what he needed to do to stick in the big leagues. Nate McLouth had struggled mightily since joining the Braves in 2009, so Schafer had an opportunity to get some playing time in centerfield, Schafer had always been a strong defender, he just needed to learn how to use his bat. Chipper told him to use his speed and not worry about hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Schafer went down to Gwinnett and tried to put it to use. He hit .256, but made definite improvements on his strikeout rate, but at the expense of his walk rate. Due to Nate McLouth’s poor performance and injury, Schafer was called up to the big league team.
Schafer struggled at making consistent contact with the Braves and Astros (he was traded for Michael Bourn) in 2010, but was able to help both clubs. He was still striking out at a large rate (21%). I always thought that if Schafer could control his strikeouts and coax some more walks, then he would be an average MLB player.
Unfortunately for the Astros, he never did that with the team. In 2012 his line was .211/.297/.294 with a strikeout rate of 30%. The Astros didn’t see any reason for keeping Schafer, and the released him on waivers, where the Braves picked him up.
Something happened to Schafer in spring training; something that has translated into him having a great first month-and-a-half of the season. Currently, he sports a .298/.431/.468 slash line, with a high strikeout rate of 27%, but a great walk rate of 19%. Granted, his BABIP is at .394 (8% higher than his career norm), so expect some regression from that standpoint. His walk rate is what has been so impressive. At the leadoff position, he is seeing pitches and giving his team a chance to see the pitchers’ repertoire and is sometimes coaxing out a walk.
I don’t expect Jordan Schafer to be an all star at the major league level, but I do think he will make for a great 4th outfielder, who could start for some teams. He will regress, but he will be a valuable player with his bat and defense, despite the regression that is bound to happen.