These last three seasons have killed the optimism that surrounded Schafer when he entered the 2008 season regarded as the team's best prospect. In April of that season, Major League Baseball handed the athletic center fielder a 50-game suspension because of a link to HGH.
Schafer seemingly rebounded from that issue when he arrived at Spring Training in 2009 and proved to be one of the Grapefruit League's most exciting players. He homered vs. the defending world champion Phillies in his first career at-bat on Opening Day and added another roundtripper during that series finale in Philadelphia.
But while helping the Braves win their home opener two days later, he suffered a left wrist injury that would frustrate him over two seasons. Last year, he was never able to fully recover from the surgical procedure that was performed in September 2009.
"When I had surgery, they said it was going to be a year," Schafer said. "It really didn't matter what I did. I just had to wait it out. This offseason was huge for me."
When Schafer began swinging a bat again in December, he immediately found he had regained the strength he lacked last year, when he hit just .201 in 52 games for Triple-A Gwinnett and .175 in the 18 games he played after being sent to Double-A Mississippi in late July.
"I'm just ready to go back on the field. I want to prove that I can still do all that I did in Spring Training in 2009 and the first little bit of that season," Schafer said.
Schafer's body language is much better than it was at this time last year, when his left wrist was too fatigued for him to even take batting practice on a regular basis. At the same time, he is realizing some results.
The 24-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder homered off left-handed reliever Jonny Venters during live batting practice earlier this week. Despite the fact that Venters was throwing a four-seam fastball and not the nasty two-seamer that is his bread and butter, Schafer still was encouraged by the way the ball came off his bat.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was impressed with the way Schafer swung the bat while taking live batting practice against Randall Deldgado and Julio Teheran during Saturday's workout.
"When we broke camp a few years ago, people were talking about him being the most dynamic and impressive guy they saw in Florida," Wren said. "If he can get back to that and be a guy who is an option for us, that's big. It's big for him and us as well."
As long as Nate McLouth doesn't struggle mightily in Spring Training, he seems destined to begin the season as Atlanta's starting center fielder. But Schafer could again regain the role later this season or at least by the start of the 2012 season.
"Our club isn't set," Wren said. "But there aren't a lot of decisions to be made. If we get to the end of spring and he's had a great spring, it's going to make us think about things for sure. He's clearly a talented guy who got off track for a couple of years."
Because of the time he has missed over the past few years, Schafer seems destined to begin this season in the Minors, where he can resume the development process in a healthy manner.
"I've got plenty of time," Schafer said. "It's not like I'm 30. I feel good to be where I'm at right now. Obviously I'd have liked to have not had that injury and had a couple of years in the big leagues by now, but I couldn't do anything. I just had to be patient and take time."