To prepare you for the upcoming draft season, the Noise, every Friday until opening day, will feature a lesser-known prospect that has excellent odds of making an indelible fantasy impact this season. Obvious products David Price and Matt Wieters, and charitable Bon Jovi songs, need not apply.
Two years ago Atlanta entered the season with what it assumed was the NL's premiere centerfielder at the zenith of his career. Several months, and multiple Nachos Bellgrandes, later, it had baseball's version of William Howard Taft.
Anpoo Jones' rapid deterioration and subsequent departure to the Dodgers left a gaping hole in the Braves lineup last season. Un-dynamic duo, Gregor Blanco and Mark Kotsay, were horribly mediocre stopgaps.
Enter Jordan Schafer.
A third-round pick in the 2005 draft, the 22-year-old lefty was on the fast-track to the majors, until an alleged positive HGH test. Although Schafer steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, he was suspended for 50 games, returning to Double-A Mississippi in May. The suspension's physical and mental toll was an enormous setback for the organization's brightest future star. Eventually he suppressed the frustration and salvaged his season, punishing the ball in August (.320 BA, 6 HR, 7 2B).
Schafer compares similarly to Grady Sizemore at the same stage of development. Many scouts contend he will likely never compile perennial 30-30 seasons, but annual 20-20 campaigns are not unattainable. Still, Corey Hart-type fantasy contributions are probably a year or two away.
For Schafer to become fantasy relevant, plate patience needs to be a virtue. Pull-happy and somewhat mechanically flawed, he needs to slice a significant chunk off his career 25.0 strikeout percentage to become a trustworthy commodity. Once that occurs, yearly returns around .280-20-75-15 will be possible. As with any young player with premature power skills, steals will come first. Looking at his quick jump out of the box, the kid can definitely peel rubber:
This spring, Schafer has captivated the attention of Bobby Cox. After being limited by a minor shoulder injury early in camp, he's forced a "wide open" competition in center, showcasing a tireless work ethic, marked athleticism and flashy leather. The youngster is trying to ignore the chatter:
"In the big outlook, I'm just trying to get ready for the season no matter where I am. I just want to concentrate on coming out here and being consistent, just trying to get better every day. If I start up in the big leagues, that's awesome. That's what I want. But if I get sent down to Gwinnett, I'll go down there and try to prove myself so I can be up as soon as possible."
In 31 Grapefruit at-bats, he's slapped a .419 BA with a homer, two RBI, four doubles and four steals. His 8:1 K:BB split is a reminder discipline needs to be emphasized, but he's completely outperformed Josh Anderson (.256 BA, HR, 4 RBI, SB, 6:0 K:BB) and Blanco thus far.
Because Schafer is a supreme defender, and given the noticeable strides he's made offensively, don't be shocked if he cracks the opening day lineup. However, a platoon with Anderson could be installed. That may be music to the ears of NL-only leaguers, but for those in primitive mixed leagues, he isn't rosterable, yet.
As the regular season draws near, watch his progress closely. Schafer's all-around capabilities could relegate the speed-exclusive Anderson to a secondary role. Whether that happens immediately or down the road, he is someone who could contribute double-digit stats in homers and steals. Upshot: Ignoring BA, Schafer is a Shin-Soo Choo copycat with more speed.
Fearless Forecast: 350 at-bats, .271 BA, 11 HR, 62 RBI, 56 R, 13 SB
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