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Schafer looking to figure in Braves' outfield plans

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Schafer looking to figure in Braves' outfield plans play video for Schafer looking to figure in Braves' outfield plans

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Jordan Schafer arrived at his first Major League Spring Training five years ago, he walked with a swagger and the understanding that everybody wanted to see the skills that had helped him become the Braves' top overall prospect.

Now an older and humbled Schafer finds himself hoping the Braves still see enough in him to keep him at the Major League level as backup outfielder this year.

"Physically the stuff has been there," Schafer said. "Mentally, I've been all over the place. I need to grow up and mature a little bit. I've [been dumb] in the past. But I think mentally, I'm in a good place right now."

Schafer returned to a familiar place when the Braves claimed him off waivers from the Astros in November. Fifteen months earlier, the Braves had featured him in the package provided the Astros in exchange for Michael Bourn.

Less than a week after the conclusion of his first season with Houston, Schafer was arrested for felony possession of marijuana. His popularity within the Astros organization continued to sour as he hit .211 and missed the final two months of the 2012 season with a left shoulder injury.

Despite Schafer still being affordable as a non-arbitration eligible player, the Astros had no desire to include him in their rebuilding project.

"I was excited just to get out of that situation," Schafer said. "More than anything, I couldn't take that much losing. I've never lost at anything like that. It was kind of like you were just expected to lose. ... That's just not a good feeling."

While Schafer welcomed the opportunity to exit Houston, he now has to deal with the fact that he has been reunited with a number of old friends, acquaintances and coaches who are more than willing to attempt to right him with some tough love.

"When he got in trouble with [the marijuana charge], he had just finished his first season with Houston and I called him up and got into him a little bit," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But I see a different guy now."

Many members of the Braves organization are well aware of the turbulent journey Schafer has encountered since being selected in the 2005 Draft. Schafer entered 2008 as the Braves' top prospect and less than a week into the season he received a 50-game suspension because of a link to human growth hormone.

Schafer's first tenure with the Braves was also littered with physical setbacks. He dazzled with a stellar 2009 exhibition season and entered the year as Atlanta's starting center fielder. But in his fourth career game, he suffered a wrist injury that forced him to the Minors by the end of May and plagued him until he got back to the Majors during the early portion of the 2011 season.

"When we sat there after the 2010 season and went over the players like we always do, everybody was like this guy is this and this guy is immature," Gonzalez said in reference to Schafer. "They said this guy wants to be Kid Rock and Eminem. The guy I saw in 2011 was a mature young man."

Still Gonzalez felt the need to deliver a message following the arrest after the 2011 season. And last week, when Schafer was not among the early arrivals to Spring Training, the Braves manager publicly voiced his thoughts with a playful message that seemed designed to be motivational.

"I had some family problems I had to be in Chicago for," Schafer said. "I told them that when I came to camp. I'm in here every morning at 5:45 or 6."

Schafer seems to understand that he will have to battle to earn a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster. It appears he will be competing with Jose Constanza for the right to begin the upcoming season as the fifth outfielder.

"You don't go from everyone believing in you and being the top prospect to falling off the face of the planet," Schafer said. "You have those skills. I think it takes some people longer to get those out and some people longer to learn the game. You have to learn yourself and learn hitting and learn how to deal with the lifestyle.

"I think it took me a little longer. But I think the biggest adjustment for me is mentally. I feel like I'm in a good frame of mind now."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["spring_training" ] }
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