When the Atlanta Braves took Jordan Schafer in the third round of the 2005 draft, they knew they were going to have to be real patient with him. Most teams saw the kid out of Winter Haven High School as a left-handed pitcher, but the Braves believed he could develop into a solid outfielder one day.
The transition was going to take time. Playing the outfield was secondary to Schafer in high school, but the Braves saw enough athleticism to believe they had found a diamond in the rough. But it was just going to take time.
After a short 49-game stint in the Gulf Coast League last summer, where he hit only .203, Schafer embarked on his outfield career in full force this season with his first full-season team in Rome. He had a fantastic spring training, giving the Braves hope the transition would go smoother than some believed.
But the six-foot-one, 190-pound Schafer struggled when the bell rang. He hit only .224 in April with no home runs. May was actually worse, as he hit only .203. Then in June, a .213 batting average. Through the first three months of the season, Schafer hit only .214 with 2 home runs and 32 RBI in 201 at bats.
"In the beginning of the year I hit the ball pretty well," Schafer admitted. "I hit the ball hard a lot of times, but it was just right at people. From there, I took bad swings and swung at bad pitches and struggled."
Actually, it was a visit from a fellow left-handed hitter that got Schafer on track. Earlier in the season, Kelly Johnson was with the Rome team on a rehab assignment. He took Schafer aside and gave him a few hitting tips.
"He really helped me a lot," Schafer said. "Just showing me stuff. He‘s left-handed, so it was easy for me to follow and easy for me to understand. He helped me a lot staying back on the ball."
The progress is starting to show. Through Wednesday night's game, Schafer is hitting .359 in July with 3 home runs and 11 RBI. His average is up 22 points this month, and he looks like a different player from earlier in the year.
"I started off slow, and lately I‘ve picked it up," Schafer said. "I‘m adjusting pretty well right now. I‘m doing a lot better. I‘m seeing the ball a lot better. I‘m making good adjustments and getting a lot better.
Schafer can see the improvement in his game, and so can the Braves. They know a lot of players in Low-A will take time to show progress. And Schafer knows that patience is part of the process.
"Even if your hits don‘t fall in, if you‘re hitting the ball solid and having good ABs, that‘s what they are looking for," he said. "Sooner or later, if you‘re having good ABs, the hits are going to come. I just try to have quality at bats every time and go from there. I just want to have as many quality ABs as I can and learn as much as I can. That‘s really the biggest thing for me since it‘s a learning process. My first full season and not doing this before, I‘m just trying to learn as much as I can for next year."
It's been thirteen months since the Braves told Jordan Schafer they wanted him to become a full-time outfielder. And if he takes as many strides in the next three years as he has in his first, he might be knocking on Atlanta's door one day.
"I've learned so much just in this one year," said Schafer. "I don't think I knew anything coming into this, compared to what I know now. I really still don't know anything. I look forward coming to the park everyday just cause I get to learn something new. Bobby (Moore, Rome‘s hitting coach) helps me so much. Even some of the players, when I go through ups and downs, they help me mentally. I have so much more to learn, and I look forward to that."
So do the Braves, who need a few outfielders to develop over the next few years. With the progress Schafer is showing, it might just be an ex-pitcher that takes that jump into the Atlanta outfield in the next decade.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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