In a bit of a surprising move, Jordan Schafer has been named the opening-day starter in center field for the Atlanta Braves. Now to be fair, this is not the same Atlanta Braves team that dominated during the ’90s and early 2000s. The much younger team is still struggling to find a new identity after a few years of disappointing results and has finished in either third or fourth place in each of the last three seasons. So it’s a great time to take a risk on some youth.
So, why is Schafer such a risk? Isn’t he one of the club’s top prospect? Well, yes he is one of the top young players in the organization, but Schafer also has spent just 84 regular season games above A-ball. He managed a batting average of just .269 in Double-A last year after missing 50 games thanks to an early-season suspension for the use of growth hormones. The talented player with modest home run results also struck out 89 times in 84 games last year (29.6 K%).
On the plus side, though, Schafer’s isolated power has increased each of the last three seasons and topped out at .202 last season, although he hit just 10 homers in 297 at-bats. He also showed the ability to produce 10-20 steals, after nabbing 12 in Double-A, and 19 the previous season (in 30 tries). Schafer is also an excellent defensive outfielder, who should save some runs with the glove.
One other word of caution about the youngster: The left-handed batter hit just .196/.306/.299 against southpaws in 2008 (.236 average lifetime), compared to .309/.416/.565 against right-handers. So that means he should probably be platooned – especially against the better left-handed pitchers. The bad news, though, is that the Atlanta roster is pretty much void of options, save perhaps for… Omar Infante? If Schafer has to play regularly against southpaws, it’s going to drag down his overall numbers and hurt fantasy owners.
If you have Schafer on your fantasy team entering the 2009 season, expect a .270 average, 10 homers and 15 stolen bases. It’s nothing to write home about, but it should be a solid base for a very good baseball career. In other words, at this point, he’s a better investment in keeper leagues.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.