Schafer’s career has been filled with disappointment, but his persistence and desire makes him a player to root for on the Cardinals Spring Training roster.
Drafted as an outfielder in the 3rd round in 2005 by the Atlanta Braves, Schafer dominated the minor leagues after struggling for the first few years of his career. With a combination of speed, contact and power ability, he quickly generated substantial hype. Standing at 6’1”, 190 pounds, his wiry yet athletic build seemed built for center field.
In 2008, he dug himself a considerable hole by getting suspended for HGH. After sitting out 50 games, he rebounded and had a productive season in AA – so successful that he earned the starting MLB job in 2009.
He was even considered a pre-season candidate for ROY. As a native Atlantan, I still remember his first MLB at-bat, a quick swing that drove a laser beam home run over the centerfield fence at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia.
While his electrifying start captivated the hearts of Braves fans, it would not be long lasting. He would only hit one more home run that year, and lost the centerfield job rather quickly. He finished the season batting only .204. In 2010, he split his time between various affiliations in the minor leagues.
Hope was not lost for Schafer, though, and he took advantage of a second chance in the MLB in 2011, playing for the Braves, while generating enough value to be a piece in the deal that sent Michael Bourn to the Braves at the deadline. Again, his success was not sustained.
In October, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and after a disappointing 2012, he began the process that many semi-valuable players take: aimlessly bouncing from team to team, living on the waiver wire, and getting DFA’d incessantly. Back to the Braves he went, then to Minnesota, over to LA, and now here to Saint Louis.
But within the chaos, Schafer made a change.
Not a Matt Bush-like commitment to better off-field conduct, though he has gotten clean. Schafer changed his position. The speedy outfielder pulled a reverse Rick Ankiel. In 2016, he climbed the mound for the first time, glove on his right hand, and he was not half-bad. Granted, his 6 innings at AAA were god-awful, but his AA performance – which is where he spent the majority of his time – was good.
In his 40 IP in AA, he posted a 3.15 ERA with 46 strikeouts. His 17 walks were high, but to be expected in his first season as a pitcher since high school.
The Cardinals have experience with converting position players to pitchers, as evidenced by former catcher Jason Motte, and with Schafer’s strong arm and athleticism, it will be interesting to see what they can do to help Schafer as a pitcher. Although his career has not gone as planned, his perseverance is admirable.
As a NRI this Spring Training, he’ll have the chance to prove his worth and it is in the best interest of both Schafer and the Cardinals for him to succeed. While the Cardinals always could use an extra LHP in the bullpen, he also can play the role as a 5th outfielder or a pinch-runner. If he is able to pitch, it will be hard to quantify his value – as one roster spot can fill two crucial roles.
Good luck, Jordan.
Schafer’s perseverance is admirable, and his story provides fans with someone to root for. He is the perfect underdog story, and this new chapter of his career is just beginning. The 30-year-old veteran is a rookie on the mound, and his ability to be both a pitcher and a bench bat makes him seem like the best kid on your little league team. Pitchers and catchers report in 3 days, and we’ll be watching to see what Schafer can do.
CREDIT: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports