It is Jason Heyward‘s time to take over the Atlanta Braves.
Chipper Jones has retired, and Tim Hudson and Brian McCann could be in their last seasons with the Braves. Fans had crazy high expectations for Heyward as he crushed a three-run home run in his first at-bat, and was elected to the National League All-Star team as a starter in his rookie season.
Injuries and the pressure on him seemed to affect his play over the course of the end of the 2010 season and entire 2011 season. Following a 2012 season in which he rebounded nicely, Heyward is ready to become an elite player.
2012 Recap: Heyward struggled in the early stages of the 2012 season. At the end of May, his average was a season-low .233, and he had just six home runs. Many fans wondered if MLB pitchers had figured him out by jamming him inside, and if that would plague him throughout his career.
However, he caught fire in June, which helped catapult him to career highs in home runs (27), RBIs (82), stolen bases (21) and slugging (.479). He also proved his elite fielding ability that completes him as a rare five-tool player by winning his first career Gold Glove.
2013 Outlook: Heyward enters this spring training after enjoying a normal offseason in which he wasn’t dealing with an injury or re-working his swing. The Braves have also been impressed with his work ethic this winter and that he has came to spring training in fantastic shape. This should allow him to pick up where he left off in 2012 and continue his ascent to stardom.
A 30-30 season is not out of the question with Heyward, but I think a 30-20 season is more realistic. The Braves have plenty of power down the order and don’t see them forcing the issue in terms of stealing bases. While they will not let his speed go to waste, the last time the Braves finished in just the top half of the league in stolen bases was 2005. Therefore, Heyward will pick his spots and not take the bat out of his teammates’ hands.
On the other hand, I do see his power numbers continuing to climb in 2013. Hitting in front of Justin Upton all season will allow him to see plenty of pitches to hit, and he’ll capitalize on the mistakes. Whether at the game or watching on TV, there is a difference sound when Heyward squares up a pitch. That will translate into more home runs this season.
It’s easy to forget Heyward is just 23-years old. However, his combination of talent, approach at the plate and maturity do not come around often. It’s what gives him the chance to be a special player. And judging by his effort this winter following a successful 2012 season, he looks ready to become an elite player and lead the Braves into this year and many years to come.