Jason Heyward found himself in unfamiliar territory in 2011: struggling at baseball.
He has been viewed an organizational building block, but he struggled through injuries and slumps in 2011, and there are voices within the franchise asking the question of whether he can be counted on. With Chipper Jones nearing the end of his career, the Braves have needed another middle-of-the-order hitter, and a year ago, their hope was that Heyward would be that guy. The Braves need power production out of right field. Now there is some sentiment within the organization that Atlanta might be better off dealing Heyward and taking advantage of his value or, at the very least, considering alternatives as they wait for him to develop.
The Braves have a lot of excellent young pitching, and they have everyday regulars entrenched at catcher and at first, second and third base and in two outfield spots. But they need to identify a shortstop, and they need to decide what they think Heyward will become, because they have a lot invested in him.
If the Braves brass think for one minute about trading Jason Heyward, then they need to fire themselves. Even in a down year Heyward was better than any of the other regular Braves outfielders. Yes, he was better than Martin Prado, better than Michael Bourn and anything that came before him in center field. All this from a kid who turned 22 just over a month ago.
I would imagine we will hear a lot of people around the web calling out Heyward for one reason or another this off-season, but the organization needs to stick with him and show confidence in him when others won't. Heyward knows he needs to improve, and he wants to be that middle of the order replacement for Chipper, let's wait and see how he responds to the struggles of this past season.
When people ask me about Heyward's struggles, my answer goes something like this: 2011 is really the first time Heyward has ever struggled at baseball, probably in his life! He was so good at a young age in high school that no one would pitch to him. He dominated every level of the minor leagues during his lighting fast rise to the majors, where he had one of the best rookie seasons of any Braves rookie in the history of the franchise. Heyward's struggles this year are as much about learning how to adjust and play through injuries as they are about learning how to overcome the struggles that every player goes through -- something J-Hey may never have experienced before.
If the Braves trade Heyward they'd be making a huge mistake. Now, trading Martin Prado ... that I will discuss.