Be careful of batting practice hype. That's all I ask.
David O'Brien of the AJC has a piece up on Jordan Schafer, who is reportedly feeling and looking better than ever. Noted accomplishments in batting practice so far have been a home run off Jonny Venters and line drives off Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado. This without a game played.
I am one of the most excited people in the world at having baseball back, and I know emotions run high when you first see the photos of the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, but remember that those emotions tend to get in the way of evaluating a player during Spring Training. Don't buy into the "best shape of his life" stories.
Schafer is still a long way away from returning to his prospect form. Following his well-documented failures in 2009, Schafer fell off the map in 2010 as he tried to regain his strength and swing. He hit .200/.254/.253 with one homer and eight RBI in 209 AAA plate appearances, including a walk rate of 6.7%. Schafer will always strike out at a high clip, but the fact that he had little to no plate discipline is concerning, no matter how much his strength is zapped.
Schafer will be 23 during the 2011 season, so as a center fielder with 195 major league plate appearances, he really isn't behind in that regard. Where he is behind is in confidence from everyone else. It will take a return to an ISO of close to .200 and walk rate close to 12% before he is back on my map.
From the Braves' standpoint, it may take less depending on Nate McLouth's performance during the season. If McLouth tanks early, Schafer is probably not the guy to go to so soon; Matt Young may be better suited, unless they go outside the organization. If McLouth tanks late, Schafer could very well get a call. This all depends on Schafer's performance. One thing he does have going for him is there are no other options around him or in the future aside from Young, and McLouth is on his way out soon. The Braves will give a 23-year-old center fielder with major league experience every chance to get back on his feet.
I'm not saying it's not possible, because it certainly is over the course of a long season, but Schafer needs a lot of things to go his way to return to the majors in 2011. He may have the batting practice hype right now, and he may even rake this spring, but he still needs consistent minor league at bats to get back to where he was.