Schafer not comfortable on bench
To be a successful bench player, Logan Schafer learned you have to think like a regular.
Let him explain.
“I feel like last year I tried to be a bench player, and I'm not a bench player,” said the Milwaukee Brewers' versatile outfielder. “I might be a player that's on the bench, but I'm not a bench player.
“That's how I looked at it last year, and I feel like it held me back. I didn't let my talents and ability come out last year because of the role I was in. I felt like everyone looked at me as a bench player, and I actually ended up looking at myself that way.”
It's difficult enough for a young player to adjust to life on a big-league bench after playing every day in the minors. For Schafer, 27, playing in the majors for a full season for the first time in 2013, he compounded the problem by trying to be what he thought people wanted him to be.
It didn't help that Schafer battled through nagging knee and back issues along the way, but he never used those ailments as an excuse for his overall offensive struggles.
Getting 298 at-bats over 134 games, Schafer batted .211 with 15 doubles, three triples, four homers and 33 runs batted in. He made 68 starts, including 39 in left field, 18 in center and 11 in right, while also leading the team with 10 pinch-hits, pinch-hit at-bats (39) and pinch-hit RBI (five).
For a career .294 hitter in the minor leagues, it was “a huge learning experience.”
“I'd never come off the bench; never been a non-starter in my career,” said Schafer, a third-round draft pick in 2008 out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “So, it was very difficult for me to adjust to that role.
“I thought I'd be better adjusting to it. I was OK coming off the bench for pinch-hits and whatnot. My issue was my starts. Whenever I got a start, it was tough getting back into my routine.
“When you spend enough time sitting on the bench and not getting into games until the seventh or eighth inning, sometimes it weighs on you. Last year, I let it get to me a bit.”
To avoid falling into that trap again, Schafer went home and reminded himself that he always played best when having fun. In other words, he decided not to clutter his mind with all the trappings of worrying about when his next at-bat might come.
“It's a conscious choice by me to make sure I'm just being happy every day,” Schafer said. “I feel the results will come by just being myself. I'm a baseball player, and I love being out here and playing.
“I'm trying to just be myself and it's really fun. It's really nice to just go out there and play the game I love and just be myself, and not think about all the logistics, and who's going to be where. Just go out there and play.”
Playing with that carefree attitude, Schafer has had a stellar spring. He is batting .340 (18 for 53) with three doubles, two triples, a home run, six RBI and five stolen bases, regularly squaring up pitches, even when making outs.
Schafer's performance has not surprised manager Ron Roenicke, one of his staunchest advocates.
“He's had a great spring,” Roenicke said. “This guy is a good player. Somewhere down the line, he'll probably get a chance to play every day, and see where he's at.
“He's very confident. That's going to help him off the bench, also. When you're not sure if you can hit in the big leagues or play in the big leagues, you try to do a role and it's very difficult. If you're not really confident, borderline cocky, it's tough.”
Schafer's defensive versatility allowed the Brewers to keep him as their lone extra outfielder as they put together their 25-man roster. A centerfielder by trade—and a Gold Glove-quality defender at that position—Schafer also can play left and right without being a fish out of water.
“Say he was just a centerfielder and hadn't played the corners, it would be tough to do that (keep one extra outfielder),” Roenicke said. It allows us to feel comfortable going in.
“He is smoother than 'Gomey' in center. It's just that 'Gomey' has speed that not many people have. 'Schaf' is pretty 'on' with his jumps. That's instinct.”
With no guarantee of seeing more action than a year ago, Schafer believes he's better equipped to handle life as a reserve in the big leagues. Priority No. 1: Think like a regular.
“Since 2011, when I got my first call-up, everyone's been talking about my defense and versatility, and how I can bunt and run the bases,” he said. “But nobody ever talked about how I can hit, which I've always done throughout the minor leagues my entire career.
“I let people get in my head and say I can't hit, and I sort of just bought into that. It's brutal. I'm a hell of a baseball player, and when I have the opportunity to get in the lineup, I can hit.
“When I figured it all out and looked back at my year, I realized how much stuff I had to go through and endure, and hopefully come out a better player.”