COUNTDOWN: TOP 50 BRAVES PROSPECTS
PROSPECT NO. 39: JORDAN SCHAFER
Many top prospects have found obstacleS such as injury or the inability to play certain positions as blocking their way to a prolonged major league career. Jordan Schafer's biggest obstacle was present for the outfielder every time he looked in a mirror.
A third-round prep pick in the 2003 draft, he took $320,000 not to take his talents as a pitcher to Clemson, the lefty hitting outfielder at age 20 ascended to the top of the Braves' prospect board before the 2008 season. He later admitted, “I never dreamed I would be drafted as a hitter.”
Playing both at Rome and Myrtle Beach, he hit .312, leading all of the minor leagues with 176 hits with 15 homers, 63 RBIs and 74 extra base hits (49 doubles). That was followed by a sensational Arizona Fall League campaign, and it seemed that the sky was the limit.
He showed up for spring training the following year decked out in bling and with an entourage of guys who made the Braves' brass nervous. He quickly became one of the most unpopular players in camp, but that did not prepare anyone for what came next.
On April 4, MLB lawyers brought him to Atlanta for questioning, and on April 8, his season with Class AA Mississippi was interrupted when he was nailed with a 50-game suspension for using HGH – Human Growth Hormone. His father told ESPN that Jordan did not fail a drug test and did not purchase HGH, either from a supplier or online. But the MLB director of media relations, Mike Teevan, replied that MLB has “non-analytic means of identifying players, (and Schafer) falls under that category.”
That August, he told Baseball America, “What happened is unfortunate. It's not what people think. I didn't do something to make me better. … If you have proof that I used stuff, I mean, someone please show me.” But the point was made in a USA Today article the following spring was that Schafer accepted the suspension when MLB's anecdotal evidence was presented.
At the time, there was no test for HGH.
Admitting his head was still in the wrong place, he got off to a wretched start when he was finally allowed to take the field. A strong finish was required to get his average up to .269, but still had 80 hits (including 10 homers) in his 84-game season. He broke camp with the Braves in 2009, but the Schafer who was such a heralded prospect was nowhere to be found; he hit only .204 with 63 strikeouts in 50 games and was exiled to the minors for two injury plagued seasons.
But the Astros thought enough of his potential to build a trade that inclued Schafer for veteran Michael Bourn during the 2011 season. That winter, he was pulled over with expired 2008 plates on his vehicle and police found it filled with marijuana smoke. He was in possession of 25 grams, making it a felony arrest. But remarkably, following the 2012 season, the Braves re-acquired him on waivers thanks in large part to a plea from friend and teammate Matt Diaz. Playing for minimum salary, he hit .247 with 22 stolen bases and played in 94 games. He returned for 2014, but suffered a stress fracture in his ankle and was put on waivers. He was claimed by the Twins, hit a career-high .285 with 15 stolen bases in just 41 games and was named the Twins Opening Day center fielder for 2015.
But once again, the Cinderella story turned sour. He sprained his knee, hit only .217 and was 0-for-3 in stolen bases when he was released on June 18.
His career seemingly over at age 28, Schafer instead staged another re-boot, returning to his original plan to be a pitcher. In 2016, signed by the Dodgers, he appeared in a total of 40 games over three minor league levels (1-1, 3.83, 59 strikeouts in 49 innings), finishing the year in AAA with a roster invite to the big league camp this spring. He'll be just 30 year old.