Up (Hey)Ward and On (Hey)Ward
The Atlanta Braves announced on Friday that Jason Heyward, the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, will be the team's right fielder on Opening Day. Bobby Cox, in his last season as the club's manager, told the 20-year old in a three-minute meeting in the clubhouse, "I'm delighted to tell you you're on the team, Jason, simply because you make us a better team."
Cox told the media, "He's as good a player as I've seen all spring—our team, any other team."
What should we expect from the superstar-in-the-making in his rookie season in the majors? To get a better handle on that question, I turned to some of the most well-known projection systems as shown below:
On average, the projection systems believe Heyward will hit .278/.345/.443. For perspective, that line is virtually identical to the following seven players over the past three years:
Garrett Atkins (.278/.339/.440)
Ronnie Belliard (.286/.342/.445)
Jorge Cantu (.280/.335/.453)
Ryan Garko (.278/.350/.437)
Kelly Johnson (.269/.349/.438)
Aaron Rowand (.282/.346/.451)
Ryan Spilborghs (.279/.354/.443)
While Heyward's projected stats may be impressive for a young man who was playing high school baseball in Georgia three years ago, they look rather pedestrian from the standpoint of comparable players. However, if he were to match Bill James' projections or BP's 70th percentile (.290/.362/.497), then you would have something a bit more special as comps such as Andre Ethier, Nick Markakis, Andrew McCutchen, Victor Martinez, and Troy Tulowitzki come into play.
In the real world, Heyward hit a combined .323/.408/.555 at three minor-league levels (A+/AA/AAA) last year. He hit for average and power while drawing 51 walks and striking out only 51 times. His plate discipline is unusual for someone his age. Furthermore, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound lefthanded hitter is 17-for-49 (.347/.467/.490) with four doubles and one home run in 18 games and 58 plate appearances this spring. He has walked and struck out nine times each. Heyward has stolen four bases in five attempts, which is in line with his MiLB rate (26 SB and 5 CS).
Heyward was scratched from Sunday's game against the Nationals with left shin splints. He is expected to sit out the next few days but should be good to go when the Braves open the season at home on Monday, April 5 vs. the Chicago Cubs. The game is scheduled to be televised on ESPN.