Schafer to start as Braves set roster
Rookie gets nod in center; Bennett earns 'pen spot
ATLANTA -- The Braves took another step in their plan to stress pitching and defense in 2009, naming 22-year-old Jordan Schafer their starting center fielder while setting their 25-man roster for the regular season.
"He plays tremendous defense," general manager Frank Wren said in the Braves' clubhouse at Turner Field prior to Friday night's exhibition against the Tigers. "He'll be one of the better defensive center fielders right away. I think he's got the potential to drive balls all over the field, and I think that's one of the things that helped him stand out -- his ability to hit the ball to all fields and hit with power. Just all-around, his game was impressive this spring."
"He can run, he can throw and he's accurate with his arm and he's a dynamite center fielder," added manager Bobby Cox. "We've got a real good pitching staff, and I think a kid like him is really going to help it."
Schafer was in center field Friday night, and although he went 0-for-2, he is still hitting .333 and leads the Braves in hits (22), runs (13, tied with Kelly Johnson) and stolen bases (five).
Of course, Schafer realizes there is still work to be done as far as hitting Major League pitching. It's something the rookie is cautious about, but a challenge he is looking forward to.
"I'm sure I'm going to have my struggles," said Schafer, who has struck out a team-high 16 times this spring. "Every rookie that comes in, they don't just blow the league out of the water. I'm going to have struggles, ups and downs. Hopefully I have guys here that can help me."
But for Schafer, gone are the days of the mental anguish of having to prove himself, especially after last season's 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy, something he called the low point of his life.
More positive for Schafer is that the days of a number in the 60s are gone.
In fact, when he takes the field Saturday, he will no longer be wearing 64, as he traded that one in for 24 -- coincidentally the number of Josh Anderson, who was traded to Detroit on Monday in a move that basically signaled Atlanta's commitment to Schafer.
The decision of Schafer over Gregor Blanco, who won the job last year in Spring Training but was assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday, was not the only Braves roster move.
Atlanta also made the final decision on its pitching staff, choosing to begin the season Sunday night in Philadelphia with 12 pitchers -- four starters (right-handers Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurrjens), and eight relievers (righties Peter Moylan, Rafael Soriano, Jeff Bennett, Blaine Boyer, Jorge Campillo and Buddy Carlyle, and lefties Mike Gonzalez and Eric O'Flaherty).
The final decision was choosing the more versatile sinkerballer Bennett over the hard-throwing Acosta.
"I think we have a lot of flexibility," said Wren. "You look at Jorge Campillo, a year ago what he did for us, he started out the season in the bullpen pitching in a variety of roles and then stepped in and started for us and did well. So we have flexibility there. Buddy Carlyle did the same thing for us. So we have those guys that can give us innings if we need them. Then I think the big thing is the health of those back three guys. With Gonzalez closing and Soriano and Moylan, having all three of those guys healthy and pitching late in games, that really strengthens our bullpen."
As expected, Tom Glavine will begin the season on the disabled list. He is slated to make his first start April 18 at Pittsburgh.
Brian McCann will start behind the plate, with Clint Sammons backing him up, as David Ross is currently on the DL, retroactive to Wednesday.
The infield features starters Casey Kotchman, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar and Chipper Jones, with Martin Prado, Omar Infante and Greg Norton coming off the bench.
Schafer will be flanked by a left-field platoon of veteran Garret Anderson and Matt Diaz, as well as Jeff Francoeur in right.
Acosta, lefty Boone Logan and outfielders Blanco and Brandon Jones were optioned to Gwinnett, while right-hander Kris Medlen, infielder Brooks Conrad and catcher J.C. Boscan were reassigned to Minor League camp.
"It's not easy, but all the guys we're sending out could easily be back here," said Cox. "There are no problems with any of them. They can all get a little bit better and work themselves right back."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.