Young centerfielder searches for a spot on Brewers roster
If you needed a starting centerfielder this spring, would Logan Schafer have a good shot to make your roster?
“If we needed one, sure,” replied the Milwaukee Brewers’ manager.
The problem—at least for Schafer—is that the Brewers are not looking for a starting centerfielder at present. In fact, it’s probably the deepest position on their roster.
Beyond the successful returning platoon of Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez in center, the Brewers have Norichika Aoki, a six-time Golden Glove winner in Japan at that position. Thus, barring injury, Schafer is expected to begin the 2012 season as Class AAA Nashville’s starting centerfielder.
It doesn’t matter that Schafer has been on fire at the plate through the first week of exhibition play. With six hits in his last seven at-bats, the left-handed hitter is batting .538 (7 for 13) in the Cactus League.
Even more impressive, Schafer—who hardly looks like a power hitter at a lanky 6 feet 1 inch and 181 pounds—has socked three doubles and two triples.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Roenicke. “Schafer always squares it up. He did it last year, too. He has a knack for squaring up the ball.
“He runs well, plays great defense. He’s a nice-looking player.”
Known as a consummate fly-chaser, Schafer already has made some impressive plays in center. Roenicke said earlier in camp that the 2008 third-round draft pick could play defense in the majors right now without missing a beat.
“I’ve always taken pride in my defense,” said Schafer. “It’s fun making plays out there. You want to make them take notice. If they like you, you want to make them love you.”
Schafer, 25, deserves to have some fun in camp. Two years ago, just a couple of days before he was scheduled to report to his first big-league spring training, Schafer suffered a groin strain in an early minor-league session and never made it to the Brewers’ side of their Maryvale complex.
That injury eventually morphed into a sports hernia. Making matters worse, after finally being activated in June and assigned to high Class A Brevard County, Schafer fouled a ball off his right foot and fractured it, nixing his season after a mere seven games.
Last spring, Schafer was playing well in the Brewers’ camp when he suffered a broken right thumb sliding into second base during an exhibition game against San Francisco. He opened the season on the disabled list and was assigned to Brevard in mid-May, then moved up to Class AA Huntsville a little over a week later.
In 50 games with the Stars, Schafer batted .302 with nine doubles, four triples and 19 runs batted in, striking out only 25 times in 189 at-bats. He was bumped up to Nashville and performed even better, batting .331 in 40 games with 13 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 23 RBI.
Schafer got his first taste of the big leagues as a September call-up, collecting his first hit with a pinch-hit single off Cincinnati closer Francisco Cordero. Overall, it was the kind of year that normally would give you a foot in the door, provided your club needed a centerfielder.
“I’m not that young anymore,” said Schafer, who was drafted out of Cal Poly. “All you can do is try to make an impression when you get a chance. It’s early but so far it’s been going well.”
There were many years in the Brewers’ history when Schafer would have been No. 1 on the depth chart in center. The timing isn’t working in his favor at present but things can change quickly in baseball.
“I would have no problem with him in center field right now,” said Roenicke. “And, offensively, he keeps doing it. So, I don’t know what his ceiling is. I don’t know if he’s a legitimate starting centerfielder in the big leagues. What I’m hearing from some of the minor-league staff, they think he is.
“I haven’t seen him enough to make that call on him yet. He had a very good spring for us last year until he slid into second base and hurt himself. He’s a guy that keeps showing he will meet any challenge you put in front of him. That’s a good sign.
“He’s a very good athlete. He’s not a big, physical guy like Carlos. But he makes it work.”