As players start to arrive in Kissimmee, the first signs of spring training are evident. Many of the Astros’ players have some sort of retribution in mind after setting a dubious franchise record that I’m sure I don’t need to repeat and in other cases, hope to achieve the expectations that have eluded them, to this point. Jordan Schafer represents the faction of players that are looking for a second shot to achieve something other than just a link with stats on baseballreference.com. Schafer was a top prospect with the Braves, for that matter all of baseball, just a few seasons ago. Jordan, unfortunately, hasn’t been able to live up to that potential but when the Astros, in need of a true leadoff man, acquired him as part of the Bourn deal last July, it opened the door for his second shot, in a very pressure free environment. The Astros have gambled on Jordan that he’ll take that second shot at success and thrive however now it’s up to Schafer to take advantage of this new opportunity and leave those failed expectations behind him.
When I saw Jordan Schafer play with the Astros last season, after recovering from another fluky injury, I thought to myself wow, I’m seeing Steve Finley. Obviously, I won’t do what so many others have done before and peg him to have a very good career, that’s just setting up the guy to fail. Finley, during his early years with the Astros was very raw but the power and speed tools were there. Remember, Finley played in the Astrodome, not Minute Maid Park, and so a lot of fly balls would die in the gaps but some doubles would also turn into triples. It wasn’t until Finley was dealt to San Diego, in a deal that still hurts my heart, that Steve would emerge as one of the better center fielders in the National League. Doubles would still be triples at Jack Murphy Stadium but some would also become homeruns and he evolved as a hitter which he’d carry over to Arizona a few years later. Could Houston be the spot were Schafer matures into the ball player he was meant to become much like Finley did with the Padres? He has the speed to play center and defensive ability to be above average from gap to gap, even if it doesn’t reach the levels of Michael Bourn. Offensively, he has some power but he just doesn’t seem to project to the type of guy to do major damage with the long ball and that’s fine. His goal is to get on base and create havoc, steal bases and distract pitchers from their goal of getting outs. During his major league time he hasn’t shown the ability to consistently do that very thing. Schafer can run and will steal bases but if he can’t get on base at a better level than he has to this point, it won’t matter much.
The issue isn’t so much that Jordan Schafer looks like Steve Finley without the stats of the former Astros’ center fielder but that he isn’t Michael Bourn. Bourn was a very raw yet toolsy centerfielder that Ed Wade acquired for Brad Lidge back in the offseason of 2007. When he arrived in Houston, it was obvious Bourn would need some time to mold his very intriguing skills. After a few seasons of training his swing to hit the ball the other way and to use the bunt as a primary weapon, in 2011 he would finally complete the puzzle. Bourn, always a defensive wizard, had finally understood that pulling the ball might get him a few homers but also a lot of lazy groundballs to second that even with his speed would simply be outs. I’d assume Schafer would follow suit, too often his aggressiveness gets him into trouble. If he is to become more than just an extra outfielder, he must learn to hit the ball to left and use his legs to reach 1st base. Bunting is something that Bourn had improved greatly over his time in Houston but even so would still not reach the levels the Astros had hoped for. Schafer already seems more comfortable in this regard. If Schafer can follow in Bourn’s footsteps then the Astros have something incredibly valuable, an asset. Lets be honest, Schafer is just a place holder that, just like Bourn, could be flipped at the right time. If Jordan can develop into something that resembles Bourn, the Astros have a legit MLB caliber center fielder until George Springer is ready and then after, another asset which can improve the team down the road.
Too often we look at prospect rankings and just assume either those players become what their projected to become or their careers are complete failures. Schafer has an opportunity to show how that assumption is often incorrect. If he can prove a lot of those people wrong, those who say that Jordan is just another prospect bust, the Astros may have pulled a gem from a pile of coal. Who knows if Ed Wade thought Schafer could reboot his career in Houston or if Frank Wren simply saw the opportunity to get rid of Schafer with Bourn roaming center field now. Could Schafer actually become Steve Finley or even Michael Bourn, probably not, but quite a few people think Schafer has already failed so Jordan Schafer and the Astros have very little to lose.