At the major league level…
… A scrap-heap of scrappy players. Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson can be exciting players, but they are not impact players. They are good defenders, but they lack consistency and they profile more as fourth or fifth outfielders than everyday players.
Center field is a place where a team can put a lesser hitter as long as that player is a superior defender. Both Blanco and Anderson barely fit that bill, and some would probably argue about their defensive ability, but they have good range, solid and accurate arms, and play the field with good natural instincts.
The issue with keeping a lesser hitter at that position, is that for ten years center field was manned by the power-hitting Andruw Jones. Since his departure, the Braves have not been able to replace his power production. If they go with either Anderson or Blanco, then they’ll need other positions to step up in the power department.
The future Braves center fielder…
… Some may not be as excited about Jordan Schafer as they were after he led the minor leagues in hits last year, then tore up the Arizona Fall League, but even after a suspension for HGH, the talent which led the Braves to draft him in the third round in 2005 is still there. With the kind of disappointing season some people think he’s had, first off the field, then with his performance on the field, Schafer’s competitiveness should not let him repeat below expectations again.
Much like Cody Johnson, Jordan Schafer finished the season as strong as anyone in the Braves system. While he struggled to hit his weight before the All-Star break, after the break he hit over .300 with an OPS over .900. Schafer hit .323 in August with a 1.049 OPS -- indicating that his troubles were most likely behind him.
He does have some holes in his game, and like many left-handed hitters, one of his Achilles heels seems to be facing left-handed pitching. In 2008 he was a .311 hitter against right-handed pitching, but against lefties he hit just .196. That's the sort of thing that can really be exposed at the major league level, especially late in ball games.
Schafer will strut his stuff in the Mexican Winter League for the next few months, then he should be primed to try and win the battle with Blanco and Anderson for the starting center field job next spring. The Braves need to give this job to Schafer and see if he can handle it. Many believe that he can be an impact player and that he will only get better in the outfield and at the plate.
More for future consideration…
2. Gorkys Hernandez – It may seem like he had a down year, but Gorkys’ numbers were almost exactly the same as they were last year. While his average was down 30 points (.293 to .264), his OBP (.344 to .348) and SLG (.391 to .387) were unchanged from a year ago. The only significant drop in any of his numbers were his stolen bases, which went from 54 to 20. Gork will get a crack at double-A next year as a 21-year old – expect great things in the years to come.
3. Calvin Culver – A young 26th-round 2008 draftee showed some good speed and situational hitting in the GCL after being drafted. He’s a big-bodied JuCo guy out of California – two places we’ve had some good luck recently.
4. L.V. Ware – A community college draftee from 2006 with good speed. He’s a short wiry guy who showed good gap power at Danville.
Others: C.J. Lee (sort of an under the radar guy who hasn’t proven that he's a speed guy or a power guy)
Photo of Jordan Schafer and Gorkys Hernandez courtesy of Chip Jett.