This player preview was written by Scotty Coleman, who posts as mvhsbball.
When the Braves drafted Jason Heyward, they knew they were selecting a talented player. How talented? No one really knew at the time. As a lanky 1st baseman out of Henry Country High School, Jason's potential seemed limitless. He could hit. He could field. He could run. Perhaps his only weakness was that that he was too good; during his senior year Heyward's stock actually slipped on draft boards across the country as many pitchers feared the 17-year old kid-beast, and began pitching around him. Even though scouts still loved Heyward for his 5-tool game, many wondered about how much he had really progressed after being constantly pitched around. Luckily for the Braves, thirteen other teams foolishly passed on The Jay Hey Kid, leaving him for the Braves to select with the 14th-pick in the 2007 draft.
Heyward's first full season in the Minor Leagues came in 2008. Starting the season in Class-A with the Rome Braves, Jason certainly didn't fail to impress. Here are his stats:
BA OBP SLG OPS 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB/K
.316 .381 .473 .854 29 6 11 56 15 51/78
That's pretty sick for an 18-year old in his first full season of pro baseball. After his 2008 campaign, Jason really started to receive national attention. He was named the Rome Braves Player of the Year, and was ranked 3rd on MLB.com's top-100 prospect list. Pretty high praise for a kid some scouts soured on after not seeing a ton of pitches his senior year of high school.
After his fantastic debut season, Jason began 2009 in High-A ball playing for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Despite battling a few nagging injuries, Heyward continued to thrive and was quickly promoted to Double-A in June, something very rare for a 19-year old. The Heymaker couldn't possibly match his success in Mississippi, right? Wrong. He absolutely smashed expectations. And to put a cherry on top, Jason was called up to Triple-A to man RF for the playoffs. Here are the ridiculous stats Heyward put up in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A ball:
BA OBP SLG OPS 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB/K
.323 .408 .555 .963 25 4 17 63 10 51/51
Those numbers are alright...I guess. After his great 2009 season, Heyward was named the #1 prospect in all of baseball by ESPN and MLB.com. He was named Minor League Player of the Year by countless publications, some of which included USA Today and Baseball America.
Here are just a few quotes of praise for Jason Heyward:
"I would trade any player on our 25-man roster for (Heyward). He's that good."
"Jason Heyward is more than the top prospect in baseball. He's the player who could transform the Braves from a modest threat into a World Series contender."
"He's very mature for his age. He's as humble as can be, and I hope he stays that way, because he's an absolute pleasure to be around."
"...You see so many players with a mindset of ‘attack, attack, attack" when they step up to the plate. Jason doesn't do that. When he steps to the plate, his mindset is ‘wait, bait and bash.'"
That's very impressive. Not only is he an incredible ballplayer, but he has a great head on his shoulders as well. There's no doubt that his parents, who are both Dartmouth graduates, raised Jason the right way. It's nice to know we don't have a young knucklehead on his way up to the Bigs, because we all know how much Bobby loves those.
Defensively, Heyward is as good as they come. Described to have a "rocket arm" in Right Field, runners trying to make it home from second base will quiver in fear as they round third. I went back and checked my notes from the AFL game I went to back in October: Twice was there a runner on second base when a ball was hit into right field. Neither time did the runner even try to make it home. In a game that means basically nothing, that shows a ton of respect not to run on Heyward's arm.
As for 2010, who knows what's going to unfold. Personally, I'm torn between us keeping him in AAA for get some valuable (and probably needed) experience, but I also feel that if he's ready for the Major Leagues we're hurting ourselves if we don't let him start in RF from day one. Even though Heyward is miles ahead of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named in terms of development and approach at the plate, we've all seen what happens when a prospect is rushed to the Major Leagues. It would be an absolute huge blow to the Braves' future plans if we messed things up with this Heyward kid. Let's be sure not to do that.
Regardless of when Heyward makes his debut, it's probably safe to say that Bobby will hit him 7th or 8th in the lineup. Bobby has been known to protect his rookies, and it's unlikely he'll change his methods after his fantastic 25-year managing career. If Jason can be an offensive force in the lower half of our lineup, I really like our chances to make the playoffs.
There's no doubt about it, Jason Heyward will have a ton of questions to answer in 2010. Will he be able to live up to the billing of being baseball's #1 prospect? Will his body be able to handle the rigors of a 162 game season? Is he really right handed? Will he help lead the Braves back to October baseball? Only time will tell. All I know is this: it should be a truly great experience watching this phenom continue to develop and hopefully turn into one of the best players in all of baseball.
Nice, and thorough job by Scotty.