Jordan Schafer was supposed to be a star in the Atlanta Braves outfield. While he made a six-year MLB career out of solid defense, a strong arm and smart base running, he didn’t exactly fulfill the prophesy of prospectors.
Here’s a look at the life and times of Schafer.
Jordan Schafer’s big 2007 propels him to the top
The Braves selected Schafer in the third round of the 2005 MLB draft out of high school in Florida. He was primarily a pitcher in high school, but the Braves liked his strong arm and contact skills and transitioned him to the outfield.
It took time for Schafer to adjust to the outfield, but by the end of 2007, everyone in the prospect world knew his name. He went from outside the top 25 Braves’ prospects to No. 1 in the system by Baseball America and was labeled the best hitter for average, the best defensive outfielder and the best outfield arm in the system.
Schafer started 2007 in Rome for a second stint, but now adjusted to life as a position player, it was too easy. After slashing .372/.441/.636 in 30 games, the 20-year-old headed to Myrtle Beach of High-A where he finished the season strong. Schafer hit .294 with an .831 OPS at the next level adding 34 doubles, 10 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 106 games. He headed to the desert and continued to roll. He hit .324 with the Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League and heading into 2008, both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had Schafer in a top-25 prospect.
And then came 2008.
Schafer will carry the dubious honor of being the first player suspended for HGH by the then-newly-formed MLB Department of Investigations. Schafer never failed a test, taking one multiple times. However, under new policy, they could suspend players from analytical or anecdotal evidence. Schafer denied ever using HGH, but the 50-game suspension stood.
Still, heading into 2009, prospectors agreed that Schafer still had the potential to be a star. He was a consensus top-50 prospect.
The Atlanta Braves 2009 debut
Prior to 2008, most felt Schafer would be starting in the outfield for the Braves by 2009. Schafer did just that, skipping Triple-A and making his big-league debut that season as the Opening Day centerfielder. His first at bat was great, becoming the 99th player to make his first hit leave the yard... on ESPN... in prime time.
Schafer had a solid start to the season, but May was unkind. His numbers plummeted from a .279 average and .854 OPS to .204 and .600 respectively. The positive was defensively, however; he didn’t make a single error in 131 chances and recorded four outfield assists.
Schafer was sent down on June 1st of 2009 and would not return to the bigs until 2011. He fared better, but not great. He was good enough to be featured in a trade deadline deal with the Houston Astros that brought Michael Bourn to Atlanta.
Two years later, he returned to Atlanta after two mediocre seasons with Houston. He improved in 2013 before spending 2014 split between the Braves and Minnesota Twins. Schafer stole 30 bases in 37 attempts in 2014 and his 88% success rate with the Braves led the National League.
Schafer played 27 games for the Twins in 2015 before being released that June. He never appeared in another MLB game.
Jordan Schafer: the aftermath
Schafer certainly didn’t live up to the lofty expectations placed upon him. He finished his six-year MLB career with a .228/.308/.307 slash line with 69 extra base hits and 103 stolen bases in 133 attempts.
As a 29-year-old, Schafer attempted to go back to his roots. He signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers and began a second career as a reliever. He had a decent run with the Double-A Tulsa Drillers in the Texas League, even making the league’s All Star Game. He struggled as he climbed the ladder, however and never threw a big-league pitch.
Schafer experienced the highs and lows — going from somewhat obscure third-round project to top-rated prospect to homering in his first MLB at-bat to fading out before the age of 30. Another bittersweet reminder that for every top-100 prospect that makes it, there are more that don’t. Still, Schafer was able to put together a respectable six-year career at the big-league level, something some don’t ever see.
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