Schafer Getting Back On The Braves' Radar

KISSIMMEE, FLA.The most critical question the Braves had to answer in spring training was determining who would play center field. For manager Fredi Gonzalez, the early returns generated near-perfect results, with both Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer showing signs of being the players they were in early 2009 and before.

While general manager Frank Wren has said McLouth has played this spring like "Pittsburgh Nate," referring to his all-star days with the Pirates, the 24-year-old Schafer has reminded the organization of the young player who was tabbed as the top prospect in Atlanta's farm system in 2008. The reason centers on his healed wrist that he initially hurt during the first week of the 2009 campaign.

"I'm healthy for the first time in about two years," Schafer said. "I feel great, and I couldn't have hoped for a better start to spring training. I'm right where I wanted to be going into camp."

A non-roster invitee to camp in 2009, Schafer forced his way into the Opening Day starting lineup with his prodigious output at the plate and his spectacular defense in center. Four games into the season he fractured his left wrist.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Schafer—a third-round pick in 2005 out of Winter Haven (Fla.) High—wound up having surgery and wore a cast on the wrist for more than four months. He tried to force the issue early in 2010 and posted disappointing numbers at both Triple-A Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi. Finally, once he gave the wrist some rest, Schafer was able to complete his strenuous workout regimen during the offseason.

Gonzalez has been impressed with Schafer's work ethic this spring. The outfielder typically arrives shortly after 6 a.m. and is usually one of the last players to leave. In between, he is in constant motion while honing his skills in every facet of the game. He saw action at all three outfield positions during the first two weeks of spring training contests.

"There's nothing I can do about what happened," Schafer said. "It turned out to be much worse than I ever expected, but it's over and I'm ready to move on. I'm finally healthy again and that's been my goal ever since (the injury) happened."

Wigwam Wisps

• After battling back spasms early in camp, righthander Julio Teheran was impressive during his first spring outing while reaching 96 mph with his fastball.

• Infielder Ed Lucas, who signed with Atlanta as a six-year minor league free agent, opened some eyes early in camp while competing for a utility role with the big league club.