Only four years ago, Jordan Schafer was a hot Braves prospect, touted as the center fielder and lead-off hitter of the future.
Now in his second stint with the Braves, he’s a part-time player trying to prove he can be a major-league regular.
In between, there were injuries, an arrest, a trade to the Astros and not much offensive production. Schafer has changed that last deficiency since the Braves claimed him on waivers in the offseason and he believes he may not be having success now without all of his past pitfalls.
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” Schafer said. “I think it’s kind of a blessing in disguise you get humbled like that. At this point, you are kind of grateful for everything you get.”
For Schafer, that’s meant settling in as a reserve who’s playing behind Atlanta’s three starting outfielders as well as slugger Evan Gattis. He’s made the most of his chances, batting .309 with a .397 on-base percentage in 144 plate appearances while adding nine stolen bases in 12 tries. His play in the field has been strong.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez believes Schafer’s limited role has helped him find his groove because he can use him in favorable matchups. Schafer agrees but said his goal is to do more.
“I’m only 26. I don’t want to spend the rest of my career coming off the bench,” Schafer said. “I want to play every day. But I think, at the same time, coming off the bench, I’m happy doing what I am doing. I am very happy being back in Atlanta.”
Gonzalez was in favor of bringing Schafer back to the team but even he’s been surprised at how well he’s playing. It took longer than expected for Schafer to get to this point.
Major League Baseball suspended Schafer 50 games for human growth hormone use in 2008, when he was a rising star in the minors. When the Braves called him up the next year, he homered in his first at-bat and again in his third game on the way to a strong April.
But it was pretty much a downward slide from there. Schafer was back in the minors in 2010. In 2011 the Braves dealt him to the Astros as part of a deal in which they acquired Michael Bourn. A felony marijuana arrest that year and and injury-affected poor play in 2012 prompted Houston to place Schafer on the waiver wire.
From a baseball perspective, Schafer said he’s learned how to be a better hitter. He’s now more apt to lay down a bunt with the infield back than try to pull the ball for a home run. Schafer credits Braves hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher with helping him develop a consistent approach at the plate and “learn my swing.” He said he has also learned from watching veteran Reed Johnson.
Gonzalez said there was never any doubt about Schafer’s talent and the Braves thought he was improving when they traded him to Houston.
“I’ve seen a guy who is more mature,” Gonzalez said.
Schafer said that maturity, more than anything related to baseball, is the reason his career is back on track.
“Sometimes it takes guys longer to figure things out,” Schafer said. “I came up in the big leagues, I was 22. I was skillful, yes. But mentally, I wasn’t anywhere near where I needed to be to be ready for all of that, not only on the field, but handling everything off the field.
“I’ve had a little bit of success now but, at the same time, this game humbles you fast. You think you’ve got it figured out and it has its way of bringing you down to earth and letting you know you don’t got it. It’s a learning experience every day.”