Braves acquire Darrow for Anderson
Move opens door for rookie Schafer to claim starting center-field job
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Had Josh Anderson performed to his maximum capabilities during Spring Training, the Braves still might have been tempted to allow highly touted prospect Jordan Schafer to begin this upcoming season displaying his five-tool talent at the Major League level.
Schafer has clearly been the most impressive competitor in a center-field position battle that lost one contestant on Monday afternoon, when the Braves announced that they'd traded Anderson to the Tigers in exchange for Minor League right-handed reliever Rudy Darrow.
"We determined [the position battle] was going to come down to Jordan Schafer or Gregor Blanco," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "It's going to be difficult to keep two of those guys, and we knew we couldn't keep three. The fact that Josh was out of options, we had to start making calls to see what kind of market there would be for him."
While revealing Anderson, who produced a .283 on-base percentage in 19 Grapefruit League games, essentially fell out of the mix last week, Wren and Braves manager Bobby Cox wouldn't confirm that Schafer has won the job.
Cox said that he'll likely announce who will begin the season as his center fielder by Friday.
"We'll just continue to watch these guys," Wren said. "The good thing is it's not going to be somebody winning the job by default. These guys are playing well and performing. We're going to have a good choice when it's done."
Based purely on the numbers and performance, Schafer is undoubtedly the best choice. The 22-year-old outfielder has hit .373, recorded a .403 on-base percentage and displayed strong defensive skills with his range and arm in 17 Grapefruit League games.
If Schafer doesn't win the job, it will simply be because the Braves reach the conclusion that they don't want to risk the possibility that he could struggle in the Majors and be psychologically effected to the point where it would decrease the tremendous value he's expected to provide for many years to come.
"I'm still competing for a job until somebody tells me otherwise," Schafer said.
In some ways, it appears Schafer is simply competing against the fact that he's played just 84 games above the Class A level. Before he was given a 50-game suspension during his first week with Double-A Mississippi last year, it was widely assumed that he'd begin this season in Atlanta.
But because he did miss nearly two full months, there's still seemingly an outside chance the Braves could opt to begin this season with Blanco, who hit .251 with a .675 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 144 games with Atlanta last year.
Blanco has hit just .111 (2-for-18) in 20 Grapefruit League at-bats and he's hitless in the 10 plate appearances that he's registered since returning from his impressive stint with Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Combining his Classic and Grapefruit League numbers, Blanco has produced a .242 (8-for-33) batting average.
Another indication that the Braves are leaning toward Schafer came Monday, when they opted to start him instead of Blanco, who has been in the lineup during just two of the six games that have been played since he returned from the Classic.
While Blanco still finds himself in a battle with Schafer, Anderson is preparing to serve in a backup role with Detroit. Because he's out of options, the Braves found some difficulty finding a team that was willing to provide compensation with the knowledge that they'd either have to keep him on their Major League roster or pass him through waivers to keep him in the organization at the Minor League level.
"Many clubs have a difficult time with a guy who is out of options, trying to figure out how to carry him," said Wren. "For us to get an arm we like who can fit into our organization as a prospect, we felt good about that."
Darrow, who is expected to begin the season with Double-A Mississippi, went 5-3 with a 2.02 ERA in 47 combined appearances with Class A West Michigan and Double-A Erie last year. In the process, the 25-year-old right-hander posted a ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio of 4.8 and limited right-handed hitters to a .183 batting average.
"He's a sidearm right-hander who throws anywhere from 90-94 [mph] with great sink," Wren said while comparing the young reliever's delivery to Peter Moylan's.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.