One of the most disappointing story lines of the 2009 season for the Atlanta Braves was the failure of center fielder Jordan Schafer. Going into spring training he was competing with two other guys, both with major league experience, Josh Anderson and Gregor Blanco. Schafer had such an impressive spring that he beat out both of them, relegating Blanco to the minors and Anderson to the trading block.
The positive spring training reports and performance turned up big in those first few games of the 2009 season. Schafer hit a homerun on the fifth pitch he saw in the first at-bat of his big league career. Another hit and a walk in that first game had everyone abuzz that this kid was for real. After his first 5 big league games he was hitting .421, he had hit in 4-out-of-5 games and 3 of those games were multi-hit games. Then came a 1-for-21 stretch as the league adjusted to him, then some more good hitting where he adjusted to the league, but it wasn't enough, and the injury he suffered in those first few games caught up with the grind of the big league season. Schafer tried to gut it out, but a wrist injury combined with the inexperience of a rookie caused his numbers to crash.
Schafer eventually had surgery on that left wrist to remove a bone spur and insert a wire linking two other bones. More info on that here.
When looking ahead to a return to the majors next season, or more likely a return to the majors in 2011, how do we quantify Schafer's 2009 performance to get expected results? Do we take the .300-hitting Schafer of the first 8 games, or the sub-.200-hitting Schafer of the next 42 games? Maybe a little bit of both? It's easy to throw a dart right in the middle and say that's what kind of hitter he'll be in the majors. The Bill James 2010 Handbook pegs him as a .239 hitter were he to see big league action in 2009.
What we need to do when analyzing Schafer is to go back to those scouting reports when he was a prospect. Baseball America said last year that Schafer has "good hand-eye coordination with quick wrists and plus bat speed." That combination is still there, and now it's there with a renewed sense of determination to get back to the big leagues and prove to everyone what he can do when he's healthy. Most all of the prospect reports from last year on Schafer also said that he would benefit greatly from at least half a year at triple-A, but he made the jump directly to the majors after just 84 games of double-A.
2010 will be the year that Schafer should have had last year. It will be a year to further his seasoning as a ballplayer at the top rung of the minor leagues, and to regain the confidence and swagger that is so much a part of who he is. He's too much of a tireless working not to come into next season with a mission to prove to everyone that he deserves to be back in the majors. To do so he'll have to work on keeping his strikeouts down, keeping his walks up, and continuing to work at becoming a guy who hits for a high average. Success in triple-A early next season could make him a very valuable backup in case of injury to anyone in the 2010 Braves outfield, and a potential major impact player late in the season for Atlanta.