Key Stats: Jason Heyward will break Hank Aaron’s record. In one season. Batting right-handed. The talk went something like that two years ago when Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, and Mike Stanton were all making a case to make their teams out of spring training. Only Heyward ultimately made it, and if the Braves had to do it over again perhaps they might have waited. The J-Hey Kid has fallen off quite a ways in two seasons from the prospect everyone thought he would be, but in no category has it been worse than batting average. He hit .316 and .323 as a minor leaguer in his 18 and 19-year-old seasons, but couldn’t get over .230 in limited last year.
Skeptics Say: Heyward had the 8th highest groudball rate in baseball last season a season after having the 7th highest groundball rate in baseball. The players that were higher are guys like Derek Jeter, Elvis Andrus, Michael Bourn, Ichiro, Cameron Maybin – great fantasy players by all means but not the guys that we would have thought Heyward would be compared to two years ago. Obviously his shoulder has been an issue, but this is not a shoulder issue. Even with perfect health, Heyward is hitting too many grounders.
Peer Comparison: Last year Yahoo had him in the preseason as a top 50 pick, ESPN had him as a top 75, and Fox had him just outside the top 50. They all thought he was worthy of being a top 10 to 15 outfielder. Last season was of course a disaster. If he wasn’t the most disappointing player, Heyward was definitely up there. That said, how much really has changed for a guy that will be 22 on Opening Day. Heyward’s not the first player in baseball history to fall short of expectations in his early seasons. Here are three more that saw great success last year.
Alex Gordon: Gordon’s numbers did not come close to the promise that Heyward’s numbers did in the early years. It took parts of four seasons before Gordon ever got his average over .260 and when he did it last year, it went over .300.
Matt Wieters: Became an all-star by his third season and doubled his home run output last year.
Justin Upton: Like Heyward, he got his first full season as a 20-year-old, but did not hit more than 30 home runs in a season until he was 23 last season. In 2009 he had a great season as a 21-year-old, but took it to another level last year by not missing any action.
Lineup Outlook: On paper, this is a very good lineup:
Michael Bourn – CF
Chipper Jones – 3B
Brian McCann – C
Jason Heyward – RF
Dan Uggla – 2B
Freddie Freeman – 1B
Martin Prado – LF
Tyler Pastronicky – SS
In 2011, it wasn’t. Dan Uggla had one outstanding stretch, but during that time the Braves were in the bottom third in baseball in runs. The key to it all will be on Heyward. We know Chipper probably will miss a month to two months of action. Prado has been the subject of some trade rumors in the offseason and could still get moved., but if he isn’t he’s not going to be the same hitter he was in 2010. Pastornicky will have low pressure on him and could still be replaced by a veteran., but will be what you’d expect from a number eight hitter. The question is can Heyward hit this high in the order? Freeman has every right to hit higher after his rookie campaign, but based on lefty/righty matchups could end up sixth if Heyward hits.
What They’re Saying: CBS Sportstline: #41 Outfielder; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: #33 Outfielder & #107 Overall; RotoChamp: #189 Overall
Projection: Even if he doesn’t break Aaron’s career home run record this season, Heyward won’t be a disappointment at this point in the draft. He will safely get you 15 steals if he’s healthy and could hit 20 home runs. Look for him to rediscover the success that made him the buzz of the start of 2010. And for an Opening Day homer (again).
85 R 20 HR 81 RBI 14 SB .270 AVG .348 OBP .810 OPS