LONG BEACH— The Atlanta Braves have some work to do this offseason. That stands for center field as well.
Atlanta was blessed for over a decade to have one of the best defensive centerfielders in the history of the game, roaming around, catching everything that came his way. Andruw Jones was allowed to walk after the 2007 season. This was a sad day in my book. I loved watching him play for the Braves. He was one of my favorites. I would have been even more upset with it had the Braves attempted to make him an offer only to have his agent, Scott Boras, smugly turn it down in an aim to suck every last penny from the Braves. But alas he walked away after having an abysmal season. He landed in the land of the Dodgers and stunk even worse. And the sadness of Andruw playing in a different uniform was quickly consumed by the sadness of Andruw playing like he was finished.
In place of this great Braves icon a platoon of individuals attempted to fill in for him. Atlanta ran out four fine individuals. All of whom surpassed my expectations. The list of players included rookies Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson as well as veterans Omar Infante and Mark Kotsay. These four individuals produced rather solid number that were mainly lacking in power. The Atlanta Braves center fielders batted .280 with a .345 on base percentage. These numbers were better than the league average at this position. But the slugging was under .400 pulling in at a .387 clip. For the team to make it further in the future more production will be needed out of this position. But I must say, considering what the team lost here, I was pleasantly surprise with the fill-ins.
There are rumors that one of the Braves young prospects will be given the chance to secure the job for next year. His name is Jordan Schafer. Schafer was a rising star in the Braves system after having a breakout season in 2007. After starting off his professional career hitting .228/.281/.368 he came on strong hitting .312/.374/.513 drawing strong comparisons to the Cleveland Indians Grady Sizemore.
However, he hit a road block at the start of the 2008 season. He was suspended for HGH use, or at least, some sort of affiliation with HGH. There is no test for this substance, so the conviction of use of this substance had to have come from accusations and circumstantial evidence. Nevertheless, Schafer missed the first 50 games of the 2008 season. Upon his return he pressed, and pressed hard.
Schafer’s final tally was .269/.378/.471. These aren’t bad numbers. Aside from the average, if this were produced in the majors this past season it would have been an improvement. Schafer ended the season hitting .320/.409/.630 in the final month. He has since joined up in the winter leagues to catch up on his missed at bats and prepare for the next season.
There are rumors the Braves might acquire the 2007 NL Cy Young award winner, Jake Peavy. It is unknown what would be required in a trade, but to think Schafer wouldn’t be asked for would be a little unassuming. He is a talent. But the Braves also have a younger very talented prospect in Gorkys Hernandez. However, Gorkys is a few years away from being ready for the majors. If Schafer is included in any trade for Peavy, then it must be assumed that the 2009 starting role will fall back to one, if not all four, of the 2008 center fielders. In this such scenario, more production will be needed from right field as well as left field.