Martin Prado vs the World, Part II: Prado vs. Jason Heyward

By Chad

Martin Prado and Jason Heyward have felt the full range of emotions from fans over the past two seasons. They were the prized and beloved break-out players in 2010 and the hated and despised epitome of the failures achieved in 2011. Both players had abysmal 2011 seasons that neither want to experience again. It may be safe to say, if they have seasons as bad as 2011, they may be playing on another team sometime soon. If the Braves have to choose one or the other, who would it be? If you, as a fan, had to choose one player or the other, who would it be? Let’s examine the situation more closely.

Outside of Derek Lowe, no two players bore the blame of the collapse of 2011 quite as much as Heyward and Prado. The Braves’ outfield was one of the worst offensive units in the MLB…again. Heyward and Prado experienced serious injuries and really never regained their form. They felt the pressure, they heard the negativity that surrounded them, and both seemingly tried to do everything they could to correct a crashing ship.

Yet, their terrible offensive performances in 2011 has created the necessity of the front office to search for another outfield bat. Their terrible 2011 seasons, has made many question whether they are flukes and will be able to regain their 2010 forms at all. The sad thing is, both players are guys who work extremely hard and are genuinely good guys and teammates.

But, what cannot happen is for the Braves to endure another season with little to no production from their outfield.

So, what do they bring to the table? Both players are good defensive outfielders. Heyward is the better overall defender, but he is also the player that is not playing a new position.

From an offensive standpoint, Prado was a .300 hitter before last year. He has played full-time for only 2.5 years. His 2008-2010 numbers were to the tune of .309/.358/.461. He found success in every place in the order that he was placed to hit. He graciously and without complaint moved to left-field to make room for slugger, Dan Uggla. Fans and players alike love his hard-nosed attitude and his all or nothing way of playing. He is not a power hitter, but has pop in his swing. Although his 2011 saw career lows in AVG and OBP at .260/.308, he could have easily surpassed his career high in home runs if he would have played in more games.

Heyward, on the other hand, was the proverbial golden child. He arrived in Atlanta after being the team’s top prospect and had as much hype surrounding a player that I can remember in some time. He did nothing but raise those expectations as he posted a .277/.393/.477 rookie campaign. He carried the team, at times, in 2010. Heading into 2011, the expectations were overwhelmingly high. He missed time due to an injured shoulder and never really regained the stroke he had in 2010. He posted a .227/.319/.389 slash line in 2010 that was criticized by almost everyone. Fredi Gonzalez and Chipper Jones made comments in the season about Heyward’s non-production. But, somewhere and somehow, I think people lost sight that Heyward is only 22 years old. Not only has he played in the majors for two full seasons, he has only been able to buy a beer for 16 months.

Mr. Cavey left this comment on my blog about Heyward:

The Braves can’t rely on Heyward this year either his dip in form and attitude isn’t something the braves have ever liked, they traded escobar for far less and he was a better bat and a needed SS.

This is where I am lost. Heyward has been criticized and critiqued for his “attitude” and I have not heard one negative comment from him. When he was benched for Jose “freaking” Constanza, Heyward did not say he was the better player. He did not whine and complain that he deserved the right-field position. He acknowledged that he was not playing well and admitted that the Braves should try to win…allowing Constanza’s light to shine and fizzle out like it did.

Everyone knows that Heyward struggled in 2011. Chipper, Fredi, Frank Wren and the entire team knows that. He knows that most of all. But, the comments that Heyward has a poor attitude is ridiculous and unwarranted.

The praise that Prado received for moving to left-field should also be poured on Heyward for handling a terrible 2011 like he did. If the Braves’ front office were to give up on Heyward after this year, I would question my loyalty to the team.

Heyward is still young and under team control for a few more years. Prado is 28 and has two more seasons in Atlanta. His price tag will rise fast. Both players add value to the team, but Heyward is the better bet long-term. Prado would be valuable as a second baseman, but he is possibly mis-cast as a left-fielder.

I expect Heyward to silence critics this year. If Prado is back, he will do the same, depending on his role.

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