That is one large individual,” Ryan Howard, first baseman of the Philadelphia Phillies, describing his first meeting with Jason Heyward. (Sports Illustrated, April 19, 2010).
ATLANTA – Just got finished reading the piece in the latest Sports Illustrated about Jason Heyward of the Braves. It’s a great piece, if you can pick up the mag and read it. Through the Braves’ first ten games, Heyward is already the team’s most productive hitter, with a .316 batting average, 3 home runs, 12 RBI’s, and a 1.041 OPS. Not bad for a 20 year-old rookie!
The SI article does a great job of taking you through Heyward’s upbringing by a baseball obsessed father in suburban Atlanta. Heyward played ball in just about every amateur league imaginable and the Braves began scouting him as early as 11 years old. It’s a wonderful story, even up to the Braves downplaying his potential to other teams’ scouts, in order to leave him available by the time their pick (#14) came around in the 2007 draft.
I usually hedge my bets with highly touted new prospects. So many “can’t miss” prospects have started out with a bang, only to underwhelm after a year or two in the big leagues. Jeff Francoeur and Jose Cruz Jr. jump immediately to mind, but there are plenty of others.
Even though Heyward has only been here for 10 games, however, I’m already letting myself believe this guy is for real. What sets him apart in my mind is the intelligence with which he approaches his at bats. He has a lot of strike-outs early on, but it is clear he is learning and it is clear he is more than willing to take a walk. That shows patience and intelligence. Watching him face Tim Lincecum last weekend in San Fransisco was especially entertaining. Lincecum struck him out easily in his first at bat, but by his second at bat, Heyward was laying off hard splitters in the dirt that to this day bedevil the likes of Jeff Franceour.
I’m excited what this season holds for Heyward. I know there will be ups and downs, but I really think this guy is going to be right at the top of the league in terms of Rookie of the Year voting. And if he keeps his current pace up, he could be in there for MVP as well!