On a hypothetical list of achievements that players would like to accomplish on opening day, what is the topper? Is it starting in center field for the Atlanta Braves as a 22-year-old? Or facing the World Series champions on national television. No? Then how about working a 3-1 count in his first Major League at-bat before hitting a rocket the opposite way for his first career hit and home run? Jordan Schafer lived all of it. 11 months later, he’s living off those memories.
Why? Because the dream start quickly gave way to night terrors. Schafer would rack up a total of 195 plate appearances for the Braves. He would make outs in roughly 69% of them. He would pop another homer along the way, but his ISO was a woefully unimpressive and uncharacteristic .084. He did walk a fair amount, nearly 14% of the time, but he also struck out nearly 40% of the time. In fact, he reached base via hit or walk 61 times and fanned 63 times.
Now, that is bad, but it’s fewer than 200 plate appearances as a 22-year-old who had never played in a Triple-A game. 200 plate appearances isn’t much to judge anyone off, especially not players that young trying to adjust to the scene. The problem is that Schafer’s 2009 issues didn’t end there. He went to Triple-A for a handful of games before having season-ending wrist surgery; giving him fewer than 600 plate appearances since the 2007 season ended.
The Braves are pretty stacked in outfield depth. There’s Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth, and Melky Cabrera. There’s also Eric Hinske, Matt Diaz, and Gregor Blanco. Obviously if Schafer performs the Braves have to find a way to squeeze him into the lineup, but each of the first three are under team control for at least an additional two seasons. Maybe they’ll make room for him by moving Cabrera before he becomes expensive, but remember that he’s only two years older than Schafer.
There’s almost no way Schafer is going to start for the Braves anytime this season (barring mass exodus or tragedy) and it’s just another example of how quickly outlooks can flip in baseball. Heck, just ask another former Braves’ outfield prospect who looked like a natural earlier on.