This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Report on Jordan Schafer
Several people have pointed out the absence of Braves outfield prospect Jordan Schafer on the most recent version of the RotoWire Top 100 Prospects list that was posted in December. Why did I leave him off the list? In complex, technical, sabermetric terms, leaving him off the list is called a "mistake."
I will be doing a new RotoWire list at the end of the month, and Schafer will definitely appear on the list. My most up-to-date list is the 50/50 List in the just-released 2009 Baseball Prospect Book. The 50/50 lists are less fantasy-oriented and more "general baseball" and long-term oriented than the Top 100 for RotoWire. On the most recent 50/50, Schafer ranks at Number 21 among hitters, with a Grade B+. Here is the rundown on what makes him a strong prospect.
The Braves drafted Schafer in the third round in 2005, out of high school in Winter Haven, Florida. He was well-known to scouts as an amateur, and was even rated as the Top 13 Year Old prospect in the country by Baseball America in 2000. His high school career was a bit inconsistent, but scouts in general were taken by his athleticism and excellent work ethic. The Braves were able to buy him out of a Clemson scholarship. The investment did not pay quick dividends: he struggled in rookie ball in '05 and again in the Sally League in 2006, but a 2007 breakthrough season (.312/.374/.513 with 23 steals combined between Rome and Myrtle Beach) saw him vault to the top of the prospect lists.
Schafer's 2008 began on a sour note however: he was suspended 50 games for using a human growth hormone, leading to serious questions about how much of his 2007 improvement was genuine. Schafer played erratically once he retook the field in '08, but a strong August salvaged his season and kept his reputation high with scouts. In late January 2009, Schafer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he never actually used HGH or any other illegal performance-enhancer, and that the suspension was based on anecdotal evidence and hanging around with the wrong people. See this story for more details.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Schafer is 6-1, 190, a left-handed hitter and thrower, born September 4th, 1986. Physically, he is a very gifted athlete, with above average speed. He also has a strong arm, and scouts have been calling him a potential Gold Glove quality defensive center fielder for years. The question has always been his bat. He had significant problems with impatience in the lower minors, but has improved his strike zone judgment a great deal over the last two seasons. He's learned to drive the ball more effectively, showing pop to all fields, and should have at least average power. His two biggest weaknesses are a high strikeout rate (more than once per game last year) and problems against left-handed pitching. He hit just .196 against southpaws last year, but given his age and hand-eye coordination, the Braves believe this won't hamper him in the long run. His work ethic and attitude are excellent, and the growth hormone issue seems a thing of the past.
Schafer hit just .203/.256/.352 in 2005 rookie ball, then .240/.293/.376 in the Sally League in 2006, struggling with plate discipline both seasons. He was much more effective in '07, then last year he hit .269/.378/.471 for Double-A Mississippi, with 49 walks and 88 strikeouts in 297 at-bats. His August was particularly strong with a .323/.412/.636 mark. The elevated walk rate is a good marker and takes some of the worry out of the strikeouts, but at this point it seems unlikely that Schafer will hit for a high batting average, at least in the short run. Given his youth and athleticism, he still has significant growth potential as a prospect, probably four or five years away from his peak.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Schafer could use some time in Triple-A to cut down on the strikeouts and improve his approach against left-handers, but a strong spring training could move that timetable up. While his playing time status for April 2009 is still unclear, he will definitely be in the mix by mid-season and beyond. Don't expect him to win batting titles, but Schafer should provide OBP, some power, some speed, and terrific defense. The glove won't help in most fantasy contexts, but in a simulation situation, and in real life, it will have a great deal of value. While some have compared Schafer to a young Mark Kotsay, he could also end up as a Steve Finley or Brady Anderson type.
Next week we will take a look at prospects that just missed the Top 100.
For full reports on Schafer and over 1,000 others, pre-order the 2009 Baseball Prospect Book, available only at Johnsickels.net. Pre-order now for January 31st, 2009 shipping!
Article first appeared 2/11/09