Have the Atlanta Braves finally found their leadoff man?
B.J. Upton didn’t quite work out there (in fact, he’s not really working out anywhere right now). Neither is Andrelton Simmons doing so. But fortunately, it looks like the third time might actually be the charm for the team, as Jordan Schafer may finally be able to stick in the all-important table-setting spot atop the lineup.
Ironically enough, you could even say it was a long time coming, too.
Formerly one of the top prospects not only in the Atlanta organization, but in all of baseball, Schafer has had quite a tumultuous ride to the majors, filled with failures and injuries, from the time that the center field job with the Braves seemed destined to be his.
Much has changed since then, of course, but now that he’s back in Atlanta after being claimed off waivers ahead of the 2013 season, he might make a case to earn a semi-regular role as the Braves’ leadoff hitter yet.
There’s just one problem: the team has nowhere to play him.
Yes, the 26-year-old is quite easily the best leadoff hitter that the Braves have been able to trot out, having posted a .262/.415/.357 triple slash at the top of the lineup, but no amount of numbers is going to convince the team to start him regularly over the $75.25 million that they have in B.J. Upton.
In fact, Schafer has received just two starts over three games since Jason Heyward‘s return on May 17 — and he’s contributed in all of them.
Despite the lack of playing time, the center fielder is riding a four-game hitting streak, including Wednesday’s performance in which he received the start in left field over Justin Upton and just did his thing from the No. 1 spot: walking twice, going 1-for-3, and doing his part in sparking the Braves to an 8-3 win.
So clearly, he’s showing an ability to succeed in a role where the Braves have found little success. So where do they go from here?
Part of the question is answered rather easily when you consider that Schafer is a righties-only hitter (.658-.516 OPS split vs. RHP-LHP), but even if the Braves continue to only give him time against right-handers, that still doesn’t solve the fact that the outfield is quite full.
If money weren’t an issue, you’d almost say that there’s a rather ideal platoon situation here with B.J. Upton, but considering the elder Upton’s upside and the lack of a lefty-righty split in his career … that’s not necessarily a long-term situation here either.
So it seems then that occasional spot start might be what Schafer will be relegated to for now, despite having been good enough for regular ABs against righties.
If he manages to keep this up (and B.J. continues to struggle), though, he’ll eventually force the Braves’ hand in finding some playing time for him, even if it means making him an unlikely member of a semi-regular four-man rotation in the outfield.