Braves send struggling Schafer to Minors
Blanco called up to take over for phenom in center field
ATLANTA -- When the Braves opted to start this season with Jordan Schafer as their starting center fielder, they understood the possibility that they were rushing the development of one of their top prospects.
Two months later, they've encountered the reality that the best way to further his offensive development is to send him back to the Minors with the hope that he can right himself in time to still prove to be an asset at the Major League level this year.
Shortly after arriving at Turner Field on Tuesday afternoon, Schafer was informed that he had been optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Having hit .203 with two homers and 63 strikeouts, the 22-year-old center fielder seemed to anticipate this move.
Schafer will now essentially switch roles with Gregor Blanco, who was promoted from Gwinnett in time to serve as Atlanta's starting center fielder during Tuesday night's series opener against the Cubs.
"One of the things we felt like we needed to address is what's going on in our outfield," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "This was obviously a move we could make easily, because it was an internal move."
Over the past two weeks, the Braves have discussed how to address their offensive inadequacies at the center field and right field positions. While finding a trade partner for Jeff Francoeur will likely continue to prove difficult, they were at least comfortable with the possibility that Blanco will prove serviceable while Schafer attempts to right himself in the Minors.
"He's still going to be a real good player," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He just has to go down, relax and get his hitting skills going again."
While some members of the Braves organization were hesitant about the fact that Schafer had played just 84 games above the Class A level, few could have envisioned his struggles mounting in the manner that they did.
When Schafer homered in his first career at-bat and then added another homer two days later, he showed the tremendous promise that was on display throughout Spring Training. But over the course of the 47 games that would follow, he hit .197 with just eight extra-base hits -- all doubles.
While drawing 12 walks during a nine-game stretch that ended April 29, Schafer provided some reason for promise. But while gaining the understanding that he was often overmatched against fastballs, opposing pitchers began attacking him in a more aggressive manner. Consequently, he drew just 11 walks and struck out 40 times during the 113 plate appearances he registered in May.
Since recording his last multi-hit game on May 7, Schafer has hit .160 with 25 strikeouts, a .229 on-base percentage and a .187 slugging percentage.
"You have to have confidence that you can play at this level and feel like you belong," Wren said. "Jordan is a very confident kid. But the longer it goes when you struggle, the more it continues to chip away at that confidence."
While hitting .348 (16-for-46) with eight strikeouts, a .426 on-base percentage and a .391 slugging percentage over the past two weeks with Gwinnett, Blanco gave the Braves even more reason to make this move.
But Blanco clearly doesn't have the same potential as Schafer, who now finds him faced with another challenge. The Braves can only hope that he overcomes this one with the same kind of maturity and determination that followed the 50-game suspension he was given last year because of a link to HGH.
"He can get it going again," Cox said. "He's got a lot of ability."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.