Prospect Schafer sent to Double-A

Prospect Schafer sent to Double-A

VIERA, Fla. -- Once the Braves acquired Mark Kotsay, there was little reason to think Jordan Schafer would be on the Opening Day roster. But at the same time, now that his first big league camp is complete, it's easy to understand why he's so widely considered the organization's top prospect.

While making their latest rounds of cuts on Saturday, the Braves announced that Schafer had been assigned to Double-A Mississippi. At the same time, they took time to heap praise on the 21-year-old outfielder, who is considered the club's center fielder of the future.

"I liked him all spring," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's a good-looking player. I like him a lot."

Before Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium, Cox also told catcher Javy Lopez, outfielder Brandon Jones, right-handed pitchers Jorge Campillo and Ryan Drese and left-handed pitchers Francisley Bueno and Jo-Jo Reyes that their days in big league camp had come to an end.

While Lopez retired, Jones and Reyes were both optioned to Triple-A Richmond. They'll be joined there by Drese, Campillo and Bueno.

With utility man Omar Infante likely out until at least May with a broken left hand, the Braves want to start the season with a fourth outfielder who is capable of playing center field. This diminished the odds for Jones, who had entered camp hoping to win a platoon job in left field with Matt Diaz.

As for Reyes, who was named the organization's top Minor League pitcher last year, this year's camp only provided the reminder that he'll struggle with his control until finding consistency with his delivery. The 23-year-old southpaw issued 11 walks in 11 Grapefruit League innings.

"He just needs to get back in that strike zone a little bit more," Cox said. "He's got the stuff."

Whether Reyes gets back to Atlanta remains to be seen. But Schafer, who hit .316 (12-for-38) in 17 Grapefruit League games, seems destined to be in the Majors within the next year. Most projections are for him to be the Braves starting center fielder by the start of next season.

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If Kotsay were to be bothered by injury, Cox said Schafer would be considered a top candidate to serve as a replacement. But for now, the club wants the young outfielder, who has never played above the Class A level, to get more seasoning at the Minor League level.

"I see him being here soon," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who is among those who say Schafer reminds them of the Indians' Grady Sizemore.

With this latest round of cuts complete, the Braves still have a number of remaining roster decisions. The battle for the backup outfielder position appears very tight between Josh Anderson and Gregor Blanco, who both could provide the club some speed.

As for the backup catcher's spot, Corky Miller has seemingly made himself the top candidate. But because he's out of options, Brayan Pena is still considered a candidate for that role. As a switch-hitting catcher, he might also draw some trade interest.

It doesn't seem too likely that Pena would gain a roster spot as a utility player. Brent Lillibridge and Martin Prado are more likely to gain those roster spots.

But with that being said, the Braves are seemingly keeping all of their options open.

"We're getting closer," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We still have some spots that we'll watch and evaluate. But we're getting closer."

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