What To Make Of Jordan Schafer
There are plenty of scouts in the Braves, Astros and Twins organizations who would say they knew he was capable of this type of production. Once upon a time, Schafer was a top-50 prospect in the Braves system but that promise never came to fruition in two stints in Atlanta which sandwiched time in Houston as well. A vicious cycle of injuries and subsequent ineffectiveness contributed to the struggles over his big league career. In all, from 2009 until he was claimed by the Twins this season, Schafer put up a sad trombone line of .222/.307/.304 over 1,251 plate appearances.
At 27, to begin the 2014 season, Schafer was back with his original organization and was hard-pressed to find a consistent role. He started just 14 of the 63 games he played in for the Braves. Offensively, his career hit a jagged rock bottom when he could not hit anything. Perhaps it was pressing to do too much in order to gain more playing time but Schafer’s swing rate increased exponentially as he offered at every other pitch regardless of where it may have been located.
Is this stretch a breakout or a blip?
With the sample size as miniscule as it is, it is easy to consider this streak one of those sample size flukes. There certainly is an element of that, no question. However, with the regular playing time Schafer has seemingly tightened up his wild swing --reducing his chase rate from 33% to 25%-- and increased his connectivity, dropping his swing-and-miss rate from 31% to 22%. What’s more, the contact is far better, as his line drive rate has jumped from 16% to 28%, as has his hard-hit average from .084 to .162. These marks show solid progress.
When the Braves re-obtained the outfielder in 2013, Schafer confessed to falling into bad habits at the plate that dragged down his numbers. He was trying to pull the ball far too often and lost the ability to drive the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. Turning over when being pitched away resulted in ground-outs instead of base hits where he could showcase his blazing speed. He reached out to Braves’ hitting coach Greg Walker to help fix this.
While he did show more ability to go the other way in 2013, a foul ball off his ankle led to a stress fracture that sidelined him for 31 days that year. Schafer did not return the same and it seemed the sound approach at the plate he had displayed before the injury had disappeared. Opposing teams in the National League exploited Schafer’s overzealous approach and targeted the outer half of the zone:
According to ESPN/TruMedia, when being pitched on the outer-half (middle and away), Schafer pounded a vast majority of those into the ground, yanking almost 50% of those balls in play and predictably performed poorly, going 6-for-52, .115.
Maybe it was because of regularly scheduled at-bats or a sweet nothing that Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky whispered in his ear, but after the Twins got their hooks into him, Schafer turned things around, particularly in this area. On pitches on the outer-half, Schafer has driven 60% of those to the middle of the field which has yielded plenty of hits (14-for-39, .359).
As an example, here is a clip of Schafer versus Joba Chamberlain in which Schafer -- rather than turning over on the pitch -- stays behind the ball to intentionally drive the pitch to the spacious 5.5 hole where the third baseman is drawn in and the shortstop is playing at double-play depth.
What does the future hold for Schafer and the Twins?
After his performance against the Royals, manager Ron Gardenhire said that the organization is going to continue to feed him playing time for the rest of the year and see how he responds.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out here. We’re letting him play and giving him plenty of at bats and he’s responding and he’s doing well,” Gardenhire told reporters after the game, “You see him running the bases, he can fly -- he scored on that ball late in the game there. He was absolutely flying, I thought he had no chance to score. He has a lot of talent and we’re going to see how he does here the rest of the way for us. And we’ll to kind of figure out how he fits in this organization. We like the young man, he’s come over here and he’s shown some of his skills.”
So we will see more of Schafer in September and the Twins will make an evaluation on what to do with him heading into 2015. He might not be a starter but he could be a very good contributor both defensively and offensively.
The Minnesota Twins stomped on the Kansas City Royals, so Friday you can get 50% off a L or XL pizza at PapaJohns.com. Enjoy!
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