FORT MYERS, FLA. – Speed is Jordan Schafer’s best asset as a baseball player, but that alone is not going to lead to stolen bases.
Schafer knows that now, because there was a time where he wasn’t so skilled on the basepaths.
“I was lucky. I had some people who took me under their wing a little bit,” he said.
One was Otis Nixon, a 17-year veteran at age 39 who stole 37 bases for the Twins in 1998. Another was Lynn Jones, who was minor league coach who worked with Schafer as he came up through the Braves organization.
“Just talking to him and other guys like that who took me under their wing and taught me the art,” Schafer said. “Stealing bases is an art, especially in today’s game. It has come back a little bit with home runs down and teams trying to manufacture runs in different ways.”
Schafer, 28, is entering his first full season with the Twins after being claimed off waivers from Atlanta last year.
The lefthanded hitter can bring speed and range to the outfield mix, and he can also energize the Twins’ running game.
A third-round pick of the Braves in 2005, he stole 63 bases in 98 attempts over his first four seasons as a professional, but he really didn’t feel like he was a true base-stealing savant until around 2011.
It was at that time that he took advice from Nixon and Jones and also worked on his first-step quickness with Tom Shaw, a trainer out of Kissimmee, Fla., who has helped football players prepare for the NFL combine.
“I started putting it all together as to what is the right time to go,” said Schafer, who has stolen 103 bases in 130 attempts since breaking into the majors in 2009, including 30 of 37 last year. “How to steal a base, what am I looking for, trying to pick up pitchers’ tendencies.”
The Twins’ center field arrangement was a circus at times in 2014. Eduardo Escobar and Chris Parmelee were two of the seven players who started there. There were waiver claims and waiver losses and trades before Danny Santana, a shortstop, led the team in appearances in center.
On Aug. 3, the Twins picked up Schafer, who was getting little playing time in Atlanta. Playing mostly in left, he played like a liberated outfielder in 41 games with the Twins, batting .285 with a home run and 13 RBI with 15 stolen bases in 20 tries.
The Twins liked his play enough to sign him to a one year, $1.55 million contract for 2015.
“That was the huge thing,” Schafer said. “I was so grateful for the opportunity they gave me last year. For the two months I got to play every day I played well, I put up numbers because I had been playing every day.
“So coming in here to compete, I want to play every day. That is not a secret. So I want that responsibility to go out there and play, whether if it’s righties or lefties.”
Schafer, batting .231 this spring, should have the inside track on a roster spot, depending on the club’s confidence in Aaron Hicks finally being an everyday player. Eddie Rosario, batting .263 with two home runs and four RBI, remains in camp, but he will only make the team if he’s a starter, which seems unlikely.
Schafer could also be a late-inning defensive replacement for Oswaldo Arcia in left or Torii Hunter in right.
“He has the type of range to play center,” General Manager Terry Ryan said of Schafer. “He can throw enough. He can steal a base. When we got him, he was a replacement for Sam Fuld. They are not too different types of players.
“Schafer came in and got some meaningful playing time and worked his way into a contract for 2015.”