Getting to know you: Jordan Schafer


Jordan Schafer slides headfirst safely into home.
Jordan Schafer scores from second on BJ Upton’s walkoff single. (Erik S. Lesser)

This season has afforded me many opportunities as a writer for Atlanta Braves baseball. One of them is that no matter what I plan on writing about, I have to start by talking about how great Wednesday night’s game was. I promise, that’s all I’m going to do, considering that my words are so powerful that I’ve derailed this team more than once when I project how great they’re going to be.

But I cannot and will not go any further without talking about Julio Teheran‘s performance in game three of the latest Pirates series. In the words of Gordan Ramsay, he was the most amazing, most incredible, most rare young pitcher who came up as a top prospect but took a while to find his groove, but finally pitched like he’s been expected to! Seriously, Ramsay said that. Look it up. Anyway, the kid came within four outs of throwing a no-no and looked like an ace the whole time. He tossed 11 Ks while throwing 79 of his 107 pitches for strikes. He also threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 28 batters he saw. Basically, he carved up the Pirates like a block of marble in Renaissance Italy. And you thought I was going to say turkey. I keeps it classy, friends!

Oh yeah, Evan Gattis hit another home run, blah, blah, blah. Geez, you’d think he was rookie of the month for May or something.

But today we’re here to talk about Jordan Schafer, one of the many weapons in Fredi Gonzalez‘s arsenal this year. We’re going to talk about him because he’s yet another young player who came to the league with a lot of expectations that didn’t quite pan out. He also has a complicated history with the Braves; he’s like the girl you dated and things got kind of crazy and you broke up but ran into years later and sparks flew and now you two are a thing again. Capisce?

Let me start off by saying I’ve never really liked his face — he looks like the poor man’s Eminem, if you ask me. This is not objective, has nothing to do with his playing ability and most certainly is not subject to approval of MLB or its clubs. But we got it out of the way. He was the #5 prospect in the Braves organization but was suspended for 50 games due to testing positive for HGH the year before he was brought up to the majors. I, like many other fans, took his arrival with a grain of salt when the Braves squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies in April of 2009. Some of you might remember that he joined the small club of ballplayers who hit a home run in their first at-bat. He followed with a single and then was intentionally walked in his first game.

An auspicious beginning, to say the least. What comes next isn’t exciting, however. After putting together a rip-roaring .204 average, Jordan Schafer was optioned to triple-A in June of that year. Then there was a hand injury, some kind of marijuana bust and he missed all of 2010. He played half of 2011 with the Braves, before they included him in a package to Houston for Michael Bourn and many Braves fans simply forgot about him.

Let’s be honest, here. As a batter, he peaked in ’11 with a slash line of .245/.314/.311, which would look better if it wasn’t in just 30 games with the Astros. In fact, you may be asking why we’re even talking about the guy. And that’s fair.

I’m going off the hard stats record here, for a moment, to say that Jordan Schafer seemed to have a problem with ego. He had a chip on his shoulder, you might say, and didn’t really fit into the Braves organization. As long as I can remember, which limits me to the Bobby Cox regime, the Braves have played humble baseball — that is, the team is paramount to everything else and there’s just no room for big egos and a lot of “me” talk. Jordan Schafer seemed to think he was meant for more, even though he didn’t have the stats to prove any of it.

I can’t find the article or the proof, but it’s probably a given to say that playing in Houston knocked that chip right off his shoulder. Sure, the Braves haven’t been to the World Series since 1999, but they have been a contender for a long time, which is certainly more than the Astros can say. So, Jordan Schafer got a taste of playing for a losing team and didn’t like it one bit. In fact, the Astros dropped him completely.

So, it was essentially in the unemployment line where the Braves ran into him. One thing led to another and they gave Schafer a jersey.

Cut to now. It’s June, and Jordan Schafer has been playing off the bench, pinch-hitting and spot starting. His slash line looks a little different this year: .306/.416/.459. Remember when I said he peaked? Not so. He’s hit two triples, three doubles and two home runs in only 103 plate appearances. He has eight RBI and seven stolen bases. His OPS is up .251 from the highest it’s ever been!

Those are the numbers. Moving into the intangibles, he’s become a more complete player. He’s become a Braves player. He understands his job and does what he needs to do it. I read a story that before the ink had dried on his new Braves contract, he was already calling hitting coach Greg Walker, saying he needed a new swing, and it seems to be working. His OBP of .416 is arguably the strongest number here, although I failed to mention his .407 BABIP, which is totally insane. But he’s quit trying to be a power hitter and now aims for contact or a drag bunt; whatever gets him on base. His walk percentage is up to 15.5%, which would rank second to masher Joey Votto if he had enough qualifying at-bats.

He’s no slouch in the field either, committing only four errors in almost 2,000 innings spanning his four years in the majors.

I felt it necessary to talk about a guy who was basically a penny stock for the Braves, especially during a year in which Gattis’ shadow is like a full eclipse of the sun. This could be Jordan Schafer’s year, in the sense that he can prove himself to be the player many felt he would be. He’s been given a second chance by the Braves to prove his value to the team and to the game. The Braves’ outfield is pretty locked up, but this could be Jordan Schafer’s chance to show he can play this game and he seems to be taking every chance he can to do exactly that. He’s playing with fire and humility and that has made him an invaluable player off the bench.

Even his face doesn’t bother me as much as it once did. Aw!

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