Schafer strained his groin last spring while participating in a baserunning drill during minor league mini-camp—one day before the opening of spring training.
"That was a really tough break for the kid," farm director Reid Nichols said. "To be only one day away from his first big league camp, you know it was disappointing."
The groin strain didn't heal, and the organization's 2009 minor league player of the year missed all of spring training. When the minor league season began, he still wasn't ready to play.
Tests eventually revealed that the groin strain had developed into a sports hernia. Determined to play through it, Schafer reported on a rehab assignment to high Class A Brevard County in June, but he broke a bone in his right foot on a foul tip after just seven games.
A third-round pick from Long Beach State in 2008, Schafer then had surgery for the sports hernia because he already was done for the season with the broken foot. Participating in a full Arizona Fall League campaign became too ambitious, though the 24-year-old did see action in eight games for Surprise, batting 10-for-31 (.323) with seven walks. He again earned an invitation to big league camp in 2011.
"He is such a good center fielder," Nichols said. "We'll have to see where we are in spring training, but he's capable of going to Triple-A despite missing last season.
"This kid can play. I think he's very underrated. If everything goes right, I think he could be major league ready by midseason. I believe he's capable of it."
Schafer's development is more important to the Brewers than ever after the club traded center fielder Lorenzo Cain to the Royals as part of the package for Zack Greinke.
• In addition to Schafer, the Brewers invited three other non-roster players to big league camp: outfielder Caleb Gindl, shortstop Zelous Wheeler and catcher Anderson de la Rosa.
• The Brewers signed outfielder Brandon Jones to a minor league deal. He ranked as the Braves' No. 4 prospect heading into 2008, but he fell on hard times last season, passing though the Pirates and Tigers organizations and finishing the year in Double-A.