Schafer Ready To Get Back To Atlanta

ATLANTA—It appeared last year on Opening Day that Jordan Schafer had beaten some long odds. Suspended for 50 games in early 2008 for an unusual HGH suspicion case before struggling upon his return to action, the outfielder put together yet another torrid performance in spring training to earn a starting job in the big leagues.

Yet after Schafer, 23, homered in his first major league contest, his season unraveled rapidly. His desire to play and prove his critics wrong led to his concealing a left wrist injury during the season's first month. Unable to swing with authority or without pain, Schafer struggled while hitting .204/.287/.313 in 167 at-bats and was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett. The pain persisted in the minors despite rehab efforts that included rest and cortisone injections, all of which limited him to nine outings.

After having surgery in early September, Schafer said his repaired wrist was pain free while hitting in January. Yet much has changed at Turner Field since the outfielder departed on June 2. A day later, the Braves acquired Nate McLouth from the Pirates. General manager Frank Wren then added Melky Cabrera from the Yankees in December. Both McLouth and Cabrera are capable veteran outfielders, which begs the question: What about Schafer?

The Braves insist Schafer is not being dangled as trade bait, which is understandable given his high ceiling. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound outfielder has been a defensive stalwart since signing as a third-round pick out of a Florida high school in 2005. Schafer also has shown an impressive combination of speed and power at the top of the lineup.

The ever-confident Schafer says his focus is centered on the task at hand, regardless of the obstacles he has cleared or those that await.

"I know if I stay healthy, I'm going to have a good year," Schafer said. "I know there are people who are going to doubt me, but I don't doubt myself at all."

Wigwam Wisps

• Schafer's best opportunity to break camp with Atlanta might come if the Braves decide that Jason Heyward needs more seasoning in the minors. Some members of the organization would prefer he not be rushed by spending a few months in Gwinnett.

• The only other place a rookie might earn a job with Atlanta would be in the bullpen. Lefthanders Lee Hyde and Jonny Venters have made impressive strides over the past year and could play a role with the Braves at some point during the slate.