Jordan Schafer is now 26 and has hit .221/.305/.301 in 893 big league plate appearances and 238 big league games. He also rates as merely a serviceable major league centerfielder. Yet the Atlanta Braves have now acquired Jordan Schafer twice, once as a 3rd-round pick in the 2005 amateur draft and this past week as a waiver claim from the Houston Astros, the team that acquired Schafer as a piece in the Michael Bourn deal.
What do the Braves want with a so-so defensive centerfielder, with a career OPS+ of 66 (an OPS 34 percent below league-average after adjusting for ballparks), and with a history of a performance-enhancing drug suspension (in 2008) and a marijuana-possession arrest (after the 2011 season)? Yes, this move was a waiver claim so the it costs the Braves virtually nothing. But why bother?
Actually Jordan Schafer is exactly the type of player that is worth a gamble. He’s displayed the skills to become at least a useful major leaguer, if not a player who could start in the majors. In his age 20 season, he slugged .513 as he split time in Low-A Rome and High-A Myrtle Beach in 2007. He slugged .471 during his age 21 season at Double-A Mississippi in 2008. The Braves thought highly enough of him to make him the Opening Day centerfielder in 2009. In spite of a low on-base percentage throughout his major-league career, he’s stolen 51 bases and has only been caught 14 times. And while he’s never been a big-time walker he hasn’t been horrible at taking a walk.
It’s hard not to compare Schafer to Michael Bourn. Through his age 25 season Bourn had also played parts of three seasons in the big leagues and performed pretty awfully, posting a 62 OPS+, a .237/.299/.313 slash line. Bourn walked 51 times in 658 plate appearances while Schafer walked 91 times in 893 plate appearances. Schafer’s walk rate was actually a little more impressive.
Of course similarity, even a slightly favorable comparison in some areas, does not mean Schafer will become the next Michael Bourn. But there is a reason why scouts rely on comps. Historical trends mean something. At the very least it’s an indication that it’s worth taking a chance on Schafer considering the cost is virtually nothing but a roster spot. If Schafer becomes a solid backup, it’s worth it. And while he’s too old to predict that he’ll be a first-division centerfielder, he’s young enough to make improvements and possibly become at least a serviceable major league centerfielder at some point before he reaches free agency. This is exactly the type of calculated risk a team with the Braves’ budget shouldn’t be ashamed to take.