What happened to Jordan Schafer? Why isn't he getting any talk for the outfield mix this year? Did the Braves give up on him after only 50 games in the big leagues?
-- Name unknown
As he attempts to separate himself from the forgettable stretches he's experienced during the past two years, Schafer finds himself blessed with youth and plenty to prove. But as he attempts to regain the promise that was present after he proved to be the most exciting player in last year's Grapefruit League, he should be encouraged by the fact that he still has plenty of support from within the Braves organization.
Really the only thing I can guarantee about Schafer is that he will spend the first three or four months of this season in the Minors. Because of a 50-game (HGH) suspension and the wrist ailment that sidelined him this past summer, this 23-year-old outfielder has totaled 499 at-bats during the past two seasons combined.
Multiple times over the past couple of weeks, I've heard members of the Braves' management staff say it believes Schafer could prove to be a key contributor down the stretch. Whether this happens remains to be seen. But there's no doubt that he needs some more Minor League seasoning before gaining the opportunity to become a late-season sensation.
In hindsight, the Braves shouldn't have been in a position where they had to push Schafer to the Majors at the start of the 2009 season. Those who saw him in Florida would definitely say that he won the battle against Josh Anderson and Gregor Blanco.
But had the competition been better, I have to believe the Braves would have still chosen to provide Schafer some more Minor League seasoning.
Now one year later, with the organization's depth significantly improved by the additions of Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera, Schafer will once again have the opportunity to address some of the developmental skills that he hasn't gained while missing so much time the past two seasons.
A few months ago, I indicated that I felt there was a chance the Braves would move Schafer. While I still think this might be a possibility, I've since gained the belief that they would do so only if they were gaining something very significant in return. In other words, they are still very high on this kid's potential.
If the Braves cannot get Johnny Damon signed, do you think they will go after Xavier Nady or maybe Rick Ankiel?
-- Daniel W. Winston-Salem, N.C.
As many of you likely know, I have never thought the Braves had much interest in Damon. But I did certainly think there was some interest in Nady. As for Ankiel, I really have never heard his name mentioned in the Braves' rumor mill.
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While it's fun for fans and journalists to throw these names around on an annual basis throughout the Hot Stove season, team officials often read these rumors and laugh.
Of course part of the reason you find so many rumors during this time of year stems from the fact that team officials don't need to jeopardize their plans by providing reporters all of their information. In fact, there are a number of cases when you exit an interview attempting to interpret fact from fiction.
But I will have to say that I truly believe Braves GM Frank Wren has been speaking the truth the past couple of weeks when he has said that his roster reconstruction process ended with the signings of Troy Glaus and Eric Hinske.
Who will be the Braves' Opening Day starting pitcher in 2010? Tim Hudson's back and healthy, Jair Jurrjens led the way last year in ERA and Tommy Hanson looks like the real deal.
-- Jeff W. Tulare, Calif.
This is a good question and one that could be debated numerous times over the course of the next month or two. Right now, the Braves would certainly entertain having the problem of spending another decade annually debating whether to give either Hanson or Jurrjens the Opening Day honors. This year, I would have to think the honor will go to one of the older guys. As the leader of this rotation and one of the strongest influences in the clubhouse, Hudson would certainly be deserving of this honor.
But with this being said, I think the Braves need to give this year's honor to Derek Lowe. This would be just another way to show him that they still believe in him and view him as an integral part of the team.
What did Brandon Jones do so wrong to be apparently on the "outs" with the Braves? I heard they designated him for assignment; doesn't that mean he's basically gone?
-- Roger C. Asheville, N.C.
You're right, Roger. This does seemingly signal the end of Jones' career with the Braves, who just two years ago still viewed this outfielder as a solid prospect. Now at 26 years old,Jones finds himself looking to regain that promise he created in 2007, when he combined for 19 homers in 535 at-bats between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Richmond.
When Jones was putting up these kinds of numbers, nobody was complaining about the quiet and "cool" approach he brought to the field. But as he struggled during the past two seasons between the Majors and the Triple-A level, there were more questions asked about his motivation.
Jones battled discomfort in his knee this past summer and had the ailment surgically repaired. While there's a chance he could quickly regain his previous promise, the Braves simply didn't feel they had room to keep him on their 40-man roster.
Why are the Braves not interested in Orlando Hudson? I think that Martin Prado is likely a one-hit wonder. Would it not make sense to add a Gold Glove second baseman to go along with great pitching?
-- Wayne H. Sevierville, Tenn.
Despite the fact that he was given another Gold Glove Award this past year, Hudson's defensive skills have steadily dropped over the course of the past few seasons. In fact, while I'm not big on defensive stats, I did notice Prado had a better range factor than Hudson, whose zone rating was also just slightly better than the Braves second baseman's.
Going into last season, there were reasons to wonder if Prado was just a flash in the pan. But for a second straight summer, the determined infielder exceeded expectations and proved to me that he certainly deserves the shot to be at second base on a daily basis.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.