After a breakout season last year, Braves center fielder Jordan Schafer ranked as the top prospect in the organization and the No. 25 overall prospect in baseball. But since spring training, Schafer’s life changed. Schafer played in four games in April for Double-A Mississippi, then was suspended for 50 games for an HGH-related infraction. He returned to the field on June 2, but the 21-year-old Schafer had slumped to a .209/.348/.368 batting line by June 23.
Since then, however, Schafer has taken off. The toolsy center fielder has batted .357/.400/.622 in 105 plate appearances since June 24, bringing his season numbers up to .269/.369/.466 in 72 games. That includes Monday’s performance, when Schafer went 3-for-5 and hit two home runs at Carolina, Schafer’s second multi-homer game of the year.
“For the first time for about the last, I don’t know, three weeks now, months now, I finally feel like my mind’s clear,” Schafer said after Monday’s game. “I really didn’t enjoy coming to the field before. It was just stressful. I didn’t want to hear anything about what happened. I just really dreaded coming to the field. For the first time, I’ve been able to talk about it and just put it behind me and get it out of the way. It’s really helpful with us winning—it’s helped me to enjoy coming back to the field and have fun again playing the game.”
Schafer spoke before Tuesday’s game at Carolina in depth about his suspension, his season, his mental struggles and public misconceptions about him and his situation.
Ben Badler: Let’s go back ‘¦ to the Year 2000. You were featured in Baseball America that year as the top 13-year-old in the country. What did you think when you read that and how did that affect you?
Jordan Schafer: When I was 12, I think that’s like the first year they started doing it, when kids were 12, and (current Yankees prospect) Austin Jackson was in there as the No. 1 kid at 12. I told my dad when I was 13, “That’s what I want to do. That’s my goal this year.” So I went out, and every national tournament I went to, I played awesome. I pitched well, I hit well. At that time, it was like a big deal. Now when you look at it, it really doesn’t matter at all (laughs). What do you really care how good you are when you’re 13? But back then it was a huge deal. It was awesome.
BB: You were a third-rounder in 2005, played in the GCL, (low Class A) Rome in 2006, and then last year you really broke out. What do you attribute that success to?
JS: When I was in high school, all my focus was on pitching. I hit and I played center field in high school, but I didn’t do anything extra for hitting—I just went out and did whatever I did naturally. It was all my focus because I really felt, truthfully, that I was going to pitch. To this day, I told teams that it doesn’t matter which one I do—I don’t care. But truthfully, like inside, I had no confidence hitting and I wanted to pitch, but I just told teams, whatever, don’t matter. So going in I went straight to the GCL. I did all right, and then I struggled horribly. I had no confidence at all. And then I went and they moved me, I skipped (Rookie-level) Danville and I went to Rome and just mentally, I had no confidence at all because really I didn’t know what I was doing. Seriously, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I had that offseason and then I had that next offseason with me being able to buy that machine. That machine helped me tremendously.
BB: The Pro Batter (pitching simulator)?
JS: Yeah. That machine, I owe a lot of things to that machine. The machine gives you real game live pitching, otherwise you’re just gonna get BP and you’re just gonna get stuff like that. And then all my workouts were designed towards pitching and I had to switch them all towards hitting. Mentally I finally started to feel comfortable and started to believe in myself, like, “Hey, I can do this.” So going to Rome and being able to start off there so hot, I think that was huge, just for my psyche being able to go there and say, “Hey, I belong here. I can hit.” And then going to Myrtle Beach, it was just like a snowball effect. I was like, “Let’s go, I can do this, for real.” Then everything, going into Arizona (Fall League), going to spring training and then it’s like everything took a backfall with everything that happened. Everything the last year success-wise, people are gonna want to say their B.S. about he used this and this, and it has nothing to do with that. Mentally I believe I can hit. It’s the same thing this year. I’m the same exact player I was in the beginning—my swing, I mean, I did little things to switch it—but the only thing different between the beginning when I was struggling or last month when I struggled bad and this month when I’m doing good is mentally, I’m right. Mentally, I’m in the right mind frame where I believe when I go to the plate, every time I can get a hit. Nobody can get me out. It’s just a different mind frame.
BB: The stuff about converting from pitching and hitting to just pitching full-time is interesting. I know I’ve talked to other guys who have made the switch, like Sean Doolittle, an A’s prospect who was also a pitcher Virginia, and he said it’s hard to get enough reps as both a hitter and a pitcher to develop fully at each. Would you agree with that?
JS: I had no idea in my mind that I’d ever be drafted as a hitter. That never crossed my mind until my senior year when people were just like, “Hey, you can do it.” I was like, “What? Are you kidding me?” I was like, “No, I’m gonna pitch. Leave me alone.” Going through the repetitions, and really it’s just mentally—if you believe you can do something, chances are you’re going to be pretty successful at it.
BB: Do you believe you could get out there and be a pitcher if you put your mind to it?
JS: (laughs) I joke with them sometimes and tell them, “Hey, let me go out there and just throw an inning.” And they’re like, “No, no shot.” I’m like, “Come on, just let me throw one inning, just let me throw a bullpen.” They’re like, “Nah, there’s no way.”
BB: What are the differences you’ve noticed in the pitchers you faced at Myrtle Beach vs. what you’re seeing here in Mississippi?
JS: Of course the higher you go up, the more consistent they are. Once you get to a certain level, their stuff’s not going to be any better. Of course when you get to the big leagues and you face a guy like Beckett, Sabathia, a guy like that, their stuff is gonna be a little better than everyone else’s of course. But stuff-wise, their stuff’s not any better, they’re just more consistent and they can locate better. They can throw their offspeed pitches for strikes. A lot of the guys we face here are older guys. The guy we faced last night (Carolina righthander Willie Glen), he’s 30. When you’re 30, I hope you know how to pitch by then, know what I’m saying? They can see your weaknesses, they can move the ball in and out and they attack that.
BB: How would you describe your approach at the plate?
JS: I just try to find a good pitch to hit. I try to make adjustments during an at-bat. Like last night in my fourth at-bat I struck out against that lefty (Jeff Gogal). He threw me sliders and I didn’t make an adjustment quick enough. I needed to make an adjustment faster and in my next at-bat I made an adjustment and I got there. It’s just, really against lefties, my mind frame is just to stay on the ball, to make sure I don’t spin off those sliders. But mostly it’s just to find a good pitch to hit. You’re gonna be a lot better hitter if you swing at pitches. It’s really just finding a good pitch to hit.
BB: Since you’ve signed and developed into the hitter you are today, are there any ways you’ve changed since then, either offensively, defensively or with your baserunning?
JS: Yeah, I’ve changed things. You’ve got to learn what type of player you are. Like last night, I hit two home runs, but I’m not a guy that’s gonna stand up there and hit 40 home runs—that’s not me. I got lucky twice, the ball went out of the yard—that’s great. But really I’m a guy that’s going to drive the ball and have extra-base hits, doubles. You just have to learn what kind of player you are and go about it like that. If you get to the plate and you’ve got a guy on third and you try to do too much, you’re probably not going to be very successful. You’ve got to stay within yourself and play on your strengths.
BB: I’ll leave the floor open to you here to talk about your suspension this year, how that started, why you think were suspended, and how that series of events went for you.
JS: I really don’t have any idea what happened. I mean, I have probably more information that most people just because it was about me, but it’s a bad situation. I hope that by next year I really don’t get any more questions about this; I hope it’s more in the past. For me being able to move on mentally, just let that go in the past, it’s over with. People are gonna say what they want still. I still get crap all the time in the stands, people saying stuff, and I 100 percent understand that. What happened is unfortunate. It’s not what people think.
I didn’t do something illegal to make me better. I’m the same player I was last year. I didn’t do anything to increase my performance last year. If you ask anybody in the organization, ask the people that have been around me, they know how hard I work. They know my workouts in the offseason. (Former Braves and current Rangers shortstop) Elvis Andrus, he’s my best friend, he came and stayed with me in the offseason. (Myrtle Beach shortstop) Brandon Hicks came and stayed with me in the offseason, worked out with me, and our workouts are like 10 hours a day. Nobody matches those workouts. You can go anywhere. I mean, people work out for two hours a day and they think that’s a hard workout. It’s more than just going to the field—there’s so many different aspects that you have to improve on. If people want to know how I get better, if you want to come out in the offseason and watch me do my workouts, I’m more than happy—come out and watch me. Come out for a week, watch the whole a week. Anybody that wants to come out and watch, come out and watch, I have no problem with it, if they really want to know how I’ve gotten so much better.
BB: Can you go through the process where you found out that you were going to miss 50 games during the season?
JS: It’s hard to go from missing all that time to coming in and just jumping right back into things. I got at-bats down in Orlando (extended spring training), but it’s not the same at-bats, it’s 100 percent different, it’s totally different at-bats. You’re facing guys that are young and just want to throw the ball hard. They have no idea where the ball is going—it’s either right down the middle or at your head. Here, you’re going to face guys that know what they’re doing a little bit. They can throw their offspeed pitches for strikes. You see live pitching, but it’s not the same at all.
BB: So you were in Florida while you were suspended?
JS: Yeah. I went down to Orlando there to where we have spring training and I worked out with extended there so I could at least get at-bats and see live pitching and try to stay sharp.
BB: During the beginning of your suspension, what was your mind frame?
JS: My mind was all over the place, seriously. I had so many different thoughts. I didn’t even want to go back home. I switched both of my phones, both of my numbers, because I didn’t want to deal with anybody. As soon as it came out—I was at a casino actually—when it came out on ESPN, and as soon as it came out I got like 10 phone calls in the next five minutes. I was just like, “I can’t have this,” so I switched my numbers. I didn’t want to go home, I didn’t know what people were gonna think, I didn’t know what my family was gonna say. My dad’s like my best friend, I tell my dad everything. He knows everything that happened. He was 100 percent supportive of me. It’s really, it’s just a bad situation.
BB: It sounds like there might be some misconceptions that people have.
JS: Yeah, it’s not what people think at all, 100 percent. Like I said, I’m the same player that I was last year. I’m the same player, it’s just my mind frame from the beginning of the year to now, that’s the only thing that’s changed.
BB: So when people say things or write things like, “Jordan Schafer was suspended for using HGH,” is that accurate?
JS: People can write what they want. I see people write I got suspended for use. If you’ve got some kind of proof that I used stuff, I mean, someone please come show me. You can say allegedly or whatever you want. Truthfully, it’s so much over, I’d rather just put it in the past and just move on.
BB: Right, because there’s no test for HGH.
JS: Yeah, it’s pretty much BS. There’s not much else to say. I’d rather just put it in the past and try to move on.
BB: When you came back in June and you did start playing, what was your mind frame like at that point in terms of where your head was?
JS: My head hasn’t been right, just the whole time. When I came back, I felt like I put pressure on myself to prove to people that I’m still the same guy. So I put more pressure on myself. And then my mind when I started to struggle, my mind went out the window. I had so many different thoughts going through my mind, that I had no shot to succeed on the field.
BB: Going through all this, do you feel that you have changed or grown at all as a person?
JS: I really think—like this whole situation, it’s really unfortunate and it’s a bad situation—but I think it’s really gonna help me in the long run. Going through all this, it’s made me a stronger person, it’s made me realize people you can trust, people that were really my friends, people that were really there for me. I really don’t think after the suspension, the public embarrassment that I went through with that and then all the people talking behind my back and whatever people saying, me struggling at the beginning of the year, I really don’t think there’s anything else I can go through in this game that’s really going to affect me, that’s going to bother me. I think that’s really about the lowest point you can get.
BB: You talked about the fans on the road earlier. What is it like dealing with the nonsense that they give you.
JS: Like I said, they can say whatever. I had a guy last night, I just hit the second home run and I was on deck and had a guy chirping at me, “Oh, you’re gonna have a test after the game.” I mean, come on buddy, please, tell me something that I haven’t heard before and make me laugh and it’s OK. They just say stuff to say stuff. They pay their admission, they say what they want. I’m gonna do the same thing no matter what, I’m gonna go about my business the same way, I’m not going to say anything to them. You can’t really control what people say.
BB: Just wait till Thirsty Thursday. Has there been anyone in particular—you mentioned your dad and Elvis Andrus before—who’s helped you out through all of this?
JS: I’ve stayed in contact obviously with Elvis. I talk to Elvis basically every day. My dad has really been there for me, he’s really helped me through this a lot. I’ve had some good people in my corner who have really helped me through this.
BB: Where do you see yourself going from here?
JS: I’m just trying to finish out this year on a good note, hopefully win a championship here. I know I’m going to play winter ball. Whatever the Braves want me to do, I’ll do it. I’m not going to complain, I’m not going to say anything, I’m just going to go about my business, go play hard and whatever happens, happens.