Since slipping to the Braves with the 14th pick in the 2007 draft, great things have been expected from Jason Heyward. He was next in line to take the reigns from Chipper Jones as the marquee superstar in Atlanta. He had been compared to Henry Aaron by Bobby Cox, a man who's been around baseball for nearly fifty years. He was honored with countless awards following his stellar minor league performance in 2009 and was named the number-1 prospect in baseball by multiple writers around the country. For goodness sakes, Jason Heyward had a fence constructed in spring training because he hit the ball so far in batting practice. But with all of the endless praise and legendary stories from Spring Training, one enormous question remained: could Jason Heyward possibly live up to all of the hype? To put it simply, J-Hey didn't disappoint in his rookie season.
Now we'll certainly look at his historic offensive season as a 20-year old, but let's not forget why Jason Heyward was so highly regarded by scouts across the country: his five-tool approach to the game. How could you not love his defense? Throughout the 2010 season, it seemed like Heyward was a one-man highlight reel in right field. Affectionately described as an "over-sized gazelle" by one scout, it seemed like Jason was on every ball hit to the right-center field gap and it was nearly impossible to hit a ball over his head. Not only did Jason pass the eye-test, but his lofty advanced-stat numbers look great as well. With a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of 4.8 and UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) rating of 6.6, it's safe to say J-Hey is already one of the better defensive right fielders in the game.
Another aspect of Heyward's 2010 rookie season that impressed so many fans, scouts, players and coaches around the league was his base running. Jon Heyman tweeted it perfectly, "Jason Heyward is a great, great baserunner." And isn't that the truth? Whether it was hustling out of the box to turn a single into a double, seamlessly going from 1st to 3rd on a base hit to the outfield or advancing into scoring position on a fly ball, J-Hey showed everyone how athletic he truly was on the basepaths. Combine this with him being second on the Braves in stolen bases (11) and you can see why he was so successful in 2010.
Finally, his hitting. Here's the impressive stat line from our 21-year old:
|2010 - Jason Heyward||142||520||83||144||29||5||18||72||91||128||11||6||.277||.393||.456|
Wanna know something really scary? These numbers, especially his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all would've been much, much higher if it wasn't for a month-long slump caused by a busted thumb. It was Jason's own fault for not telling any of the athletic trainers and trying to play through the injury, but it's worth mentioning. Injuries aside, when you still see an OPS of .849 from a guy who's just 24 months removed from being a teenager, you know you have a special player. Despite falling just short of .400, Heyward's on-base percentage was nearly historic. In Major League history, only twelve players have had an OBP of .400 in their 20-year old season. Eleven of them are in the Hall of Fame, and the twelfth is Alex Rodriguez. That's pretty incredible. Combine this with his three game-winning hits in 2010, 52 extra-base hits and afore mentioned fantastic base running, and the Atlanta Braves have themselves a superstar in the making.
Now it wasn't always easy for Jason and he certainly had his struggles this past season. He battled nagging injuries and spent three weeks on the disabled list with a thumb injury in June and July. Some might forget, but it actually caused Heyward to miss the All-Star Game after being voted a starter.
Even with the frustrations fans felt at times with Heyward, it's still impossible to ignore the incredible stats. Besides the month of June when he was injured, the lowest OPS J-Hey posted in any month was .802. Despite it being his first season facing Major League pitching and despite him facing each team's top LOOGY nearly every night once the game got into the later innings, Heyward still posted a respectable .755 (hey look! it's a sign!) OPS against left-handed pitchers. He mashed right-handed pitchers from Day One, and there was no other Brave I'd rather have at the plate if the game was on the line.
Jason Heyward didn't disappoint in 2010, and it's safe to conclude with this: a superstar has arrived in Atlanta, and there's not a better young player in the league to lead the Braves back to the promise land than the lanky kid from McDonough, Georgia.