BRAVES NOTEBOOK: Four years later, Schafer finds his place in Atlanta

Braves back-up outfielder Jordan Schafer is hitting .309 this season with a .397 on-base percentage.

Braves back-up outfielder Jordan Schafer is hitting .309 this season with a .397 on-base percentage.

ATLANTA — Only four years ago, Jordan Schafer was a hot Braves prospect, touted as the center fielder and leadoff hitter of the future.

Now in his second stint with the Braves, he’s a part-time player trying to prove he can be a major-league regular.

In between, there were injuries, an arrest, a trade to the Astros and not much offensive production. Schafer has changed that last deficiency since the Braves claimed him on waivers in the offseason and he believes he might not be having success now without all of his past pitfalls.

“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” Schafer said. “I think it’s kind of a blessing in disguise you get humbled like that. At this point, you are kind of grateful for everything you get.”

For Schafer, that’s meant settling in as a reserve who’s playing behind Atlanta’s three starting outfielders as well as slugger Evan Gattis. He’s made the most of his chances, batting .309 with a .397 on-base percentage in 144 plate appearances while adding nine stolen bases in 12 tries. His play in the field has been strong.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez believes Schafer’s limited role has helped him find his groove because he can use him in favorable matchups. Schafer agrees but said his goal is to do more.

“I’m only 26. I don’t want to spend the rest of my career coming off the bench,” Schafer said.

“I want to play every day. But I think, at the same time, coming off the bench, I’m happy doing what I am doing. I am very happy being back in Atlanta.”

Gonzalez was in favor of bringing Schafer back to the team but even he’s been surprised at how well he’s playing. It took longer than expected for Schafer to get to this point.

Major League Baseball suspended Schafer 50 games for human growth hormone use in 2008, when he was a rising star in the minors. When the Braves called him up the next year, he homered in his first at-bat and again in his third game on the way to a strong April.

But it was pretty much a downward slide from there. Schafer was back in the minors in 2010. In 2011 the Braves dealt him to the Astros as part of a deal in which they acquired Michael Bourn. A felony marijuana arrest that year and and injury-affected poor play in 2012 prompted Houston to place Schafer on the waiver wire.

From a baseball perspective, Schafer said he’s learned how to be a better hitter. He’s now more apt to lay down a bunt with the infield back than try to pull the ball for a home run. Schafer credits Braves hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher with helping him develop a consistent approach at the plate and “learn my swing.” He said he has also learned from watching veteran Reed Johnson.

Gonzalez said there was never any doubt about Schafer’s talent and the Braves thought he was improving when they traded him to Houston.

“I’ve seen a guy who is more mature,” Gonzalez said.

Schafer said that maturity, more than anything related to baseball, is the reason his career is back on track.

“Sometimes it takes guys longer to figure things out,” Schafer said. “I came up in the big leagues, I was 22. I was skillful, yes. But mentally, I wasn’t anywhere near where I needed to be to be ready for all of that, not only on the field, but handling everything off the field.

“I’ve had a little bit of success now but, at the same time, this game humbles you fast. You think you’ve got it figured out and it has its way of bringing you down to earth and letting you know you don’t got it. It’s a learning experience every day.”

Prado: Coming back to Turner Field was heartwarming

ATLANTA — Ever wonder why Martin Prado wears eye black in night games? On Friday night it came in handy to hide a few tears, the former Brave joked.

In his first game back at Turner Field since he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Prado was greeted by two stirring ovations — one when Chipper Jones acknowledged him during his pregame jersey retirement ceremony and again when he walked up to the plate for his first at-bat in the second inning.

“They showed a lot of emotions and a lot of respect for me, which is ... I don’t know how to explain it,” Prado said in the visiting clubhouse Saturday afternoon. “I was so emotional, so it was pretty good.”

Prado, who signed with the Braves out of Maracay, Venezuela, at age 17, was a fan favorite over his seven major league seasons with the Braves, an All-Star, and known as one of the hardest workers on the team.

“I’ve got a lot of memories here so it’s hard to forget,” said Prado, who tipped his helmet to a sold-out crowd of 48,282 and then laughed after he dropped it. “I learned a lot of things from a lot of people. When you’ve got people around you that make you better it makes those people better and it makes those people special for me, always. This organization and fans and everybody around made me better, which I’m always going to appreciate.”

Prado always was engaging with fans and children, and that continued Friday night when Jones’ two young sons Tristan and Shea went over to the visiting dugout to see one of their favorite players.

“Tristan has a man crush on Prado,” Jones said. “It’s unbelievable. Dad’s down here, Prado’s up here. It’s crazy.”

Prado said Tristan was at a loss for words at first, before finally hugging him and chatting a while. Prado was much the same way when he went out to hug Jones as he circled the warning track in a convertible Friday night. Prado said he thought he’d be around Jones and the Braves longer, and had more to say, but in that moment, said he thanked Jones for all he’s done for him.

Jones was one of the first to reassure Prado the day he was traded in January, telling him if he were ever a manager or general manager someday he would come after Prado.

“I think the world of that kid,” Jones said. “He plays the game the right way. He’s a guy that helps you win 95, 100 ballgames because of his versatility. He plays them all at an All-Star level. He’s one of the best two-strike hitters in the game. He’s intense. He’s got some fire in his belly. He makes guys around him better. And I love the guy to death.”