Monday, March 30, 2009

Center field: safe for, Jordan

The Braves today traded Josh Anderson to Detroit for side-arming Double-A reliever Rudy Darrow, an intriguing 24-year-old with an impressive strikeout rate in 103 2/3 minor league innings. He'll be a useful minor league insurance policy for a bullpen filled with pitchers of questionable quality and/or questionable health.

But Darrow scarcely matters. No, what's important is that wunderkind Jordan Schafer is almost certainly guaranteed to start the season as Atlanta's everyday center fielder. And might I say: woo.

It's easy to say that the Braves have taken a big risk with this decision, but that's not really true. A risk would have been trading a productive veteran center fielder with one year left on a reasonable contract in order to open the position for Schafer. What the Braves did was trade a projected fourth outfielder (Josh Anderson) and pass over an amusing yet severely limited player (Gregor Blanco) so that one of their best prospects could play.

The Braves won't be able to suppress Schafer's service time clock by keeping him at Triple-A for a month. It's possible Schafer's confidence could take a blow if he hits .220 with no power and plenty of strikeouts for a month and the Braves have to demote him. And you always risk something when you skip a player straight from Double-A.

Still, the Braves have shown they don't much care about or for Triple-A seasoning when it comes to their top position player prospects. Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann were both promoted straight from Double-A in the middle of the 2005 season, meaning those two didn't even get full Double-A experience. Schafer was solid if not extraordinary in just 84 games at Mississippi last season, so Frank Wren and Co. obviously have a lot of faith in him.

And beyond all that, this is the fun move, the exciting move. You can't base your roster off that criteria, of course, but as a fan it's nice to have something new and shiny to watch every game. The Braves are losing 12-4 in the eighth inning? I could leave, but Schafer's due up third. I want to see him hit. That's the effect young players can have.

As I finish this, I see in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Wren still won't rule out sending Schafer to Triple-A to start the season. That, of course, would make Blanco the center fielder. David O'Brien seems to think Schafer has the inside track. Suffice it to say it would be disappointing to Schafer at Triple-A Gwinnett. And I say that as a Gregor Blanco fan.

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