Move over Jason Heyward, a new catalyst sits atop the Atlanta Braves lineup.
Jordan Schafer, after a spectacular weekend performance, is making this Jason Heyward injury a lot easier to swallow.
Once a highly-touted minor league prospect and heir to the Braves center field, Schafer has had a career of ups and downs.
Well, mostly downs.
In 2008 he was suspended for 50 games for HGH use. The following season he would make the Braves roster as the starting center without ever playing a day in the bigs. He would slap a homer in first MLB at-bat. A pretty good start for a rookie, but the highs would end.
Well, not all his highs would end.
He struggled mightly in that first season with the Braves eventually being demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Schafer never really regained that spark he showed in the 2009 spring training showing that earned him the starting nod in center field. He was traded to the Astros in the mid-season deal that brought Michael Bourne to Atlanta. Later, after a woeful start to his Houston career, Schafer would be arrested on felony marijuana charges in Tampa.
Just another obstacle, right?
Right. The Braves brought back Schafer prior to 2013 season, although not to replace the man he was traded for in Bourne, but to back-up newly signed free agent B.J. Upton. Which was fine with Schafer. In the majors, it’s not often second chances are given, but Schafer got one, deserving or not.
This time he would make the most of the opportunity.
Before hitting the DL in late June with a stress fracture in his foot, Schafer raked, batting .312. Rumblings crawled through Braves Country. “Damn B.J.’s contract. Play Schafer! Play Schafer!” The words were read on message boards and heard on radio dials throughout Atlanta.
Since returning in early August, it seems Schafer has once again found his stride. Those gaudy numbers from the front half of the season seem a little more legit now. After such a perilous start to a promising career, skeptism of Schafer is warranted. That skepticism is starting to fade with days like Sunday.
Sunday saw Schafer go 4-4 with three stolen bases before leaving late in the game with a lower back strain. His performance got me to thinking. . . When’s the last time I saw such a complete performance from the Braves’ lead off hole?
Oh yeah, a few weeks ago from Jason Heyward.
Seriously, aside from Heyward, it’s been a long time running since the Braves had such a devastating presence at the top of the line-up.
In the weekend set against Miami, Schafer looked spectacular, giving us flashbacks of Rafael Furcal, Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders. Schafer stayed on the base paths and played with hustle. He pushed the ball into opposite field holes. He stole bases at an elite pace adding an element the Braves have lacked since they let Bourne walk in the off season.
Sure, Schafer still has a lot to prove. Sure, Jason Heyward was an absolute beast at the top of line up. Yeah, Schafer has had his fair share of ups and downs. But Schafer’s performance, not just recently but the entire season, has given me reason to be optimistic, even if Heyward does not return to form before the playoffs.
If his recent play continues (he has given us no reason to believe it won’t) this could be a very formidable lineup come October. A pesky and speedy guy atop the lineup would definitely help the Braves scratch out some early runs against elite staffs like the Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers, which could be key to the Braves potential title hopes.
Don’t fret over the back injury. Schafer should return quickly. He’s listed as day-to-day.
And B.J. Upton should be feeling uneasy right about now. If I were Fredi Gonzalez I’d have a real hard time letting Schafer ride the pine while playing B.J.
Looks like Schafer may reach that potential after all. Maybe the Braves will too, thanks to Jordan.