One of the best moments of opening day 2010 took place in Atlanta, bottom of the first, two on and Jason Heyward at the plate. The crowd, still buzzing from a beautiful day at the ballpark, was prepared yet in a way unprepared for what was about to happen.
Last season a young Braves outfielder by the name of Jordan Schafer hit the Major League scene with an opening night home run, prompting comments about his bright future as the next Braves center fielder and prompting fantasy owners to drop established names to acquire him off of the wire. What followed was nothing but disappointment. Schafer went on to hit .204/.313/.287 in 167 at-bats before being sent back to the minors. A hand injury was partly to blame, but the truth was that Schafer just was not ready for the task. At 22 years of age, Schaferdidn't have a single at-bat above double-A and didn't have the plate discipline yet to succeed at the big league level..
On Monday, Jason Heyward put his name squarely next to Jordan Schafer's when he blasted a Carlos Zambrano offering over the right field wall in his first at-bat as an Atlanta Brave. That first at-bat home run, however, is where the similarity's end.
Now, you may be thinking, "Jason Heyward is only 20-years-old and only had eleven at-bats above triple-A!" Both facts are true, but there is a big difference between his minor league numbers and those of Jordan Schafer.
One of the best skills a baseball player can bring to the table is plate discipline. If you need some examples of that look no further than Albert Pujols (1.42 career BB/K rate) and Joe Mauer (1.24 career BB/K rate). Last season between single-A, double-A and triple-A combined, Jayson Heyward drew 51 walks while striking out only 51 times in 362 at-bats. In 2008 Jordan Schafer drew 49 walks, but struck out 88 times in 297 double-A at-bats, a strikeout in almost 30 percent of his at-bats. That might work if you hit 30-plus home runs per season, but not for someone who profiles as a potential 20/20 threat down the road. Heyward also, as you have noticed, has some of the most prodigious raw power around.
Schafer has the potential to be Nate McLouth. Heyward has the potential to be Dave Winfield.
Going forward we do need to limit out expectations a bit, at least in his first season. At a certain point advanced scouting will find a hole in his swing and Heyward will have to make the adjustment. Heyward has had some injuries in the past and hasn't played in over 127 games yet as a professional.
Long term, we are looking at a special player. Someone who can be the next face of the Braves franchise.
Today people are using the names Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer in the same breath. Tomorrow, hopefully, that ends.