The Atlanta Braves come into Spring Training with a number of question marks surrounding key players on their roster. One of those players is Jason Heyward, who may be the biggest question mark of all after having his worst season in the big leagues with the Braves. He’s been with Atlanta for four years now and in his fourth season, fans expected to see Heyward live up to the hype that has surrounded him since he’s come up with the Braves.
However, what fans witnessed instead was a player who failed to produce while on the field.
Heyward hit .254 with 14 homers and 38 RBIs in a career-low 104 games with the Braves last season. The biggest reason for the lack of production from the young outfielder was because of two brutal injuries he suffered at some bad times throughout the course of the year.
The first injury occurred barely a month into the season when he needed an appendectomy on April 22. This injury forced him to miss some significant time right off the bat for the Braves, and it took him a long time to find his rhythm from the plate again when he returned to the lineup.
However, as soon as he started to get things going again with the bat, another injury occurred. Heyward suffered a broken jaw late in the season against the New York Mets on August 21 when left-hander Jon Niese lost control of a pitch and hit him square in the jaw. The promising star was just turning the corner for manager Fredi Gonzalez before the injury.
Gonzalez decided to use Heyward as the leadoff hitter for the Braves after he was failing to produce from the second spot in the order, and it was working like a charm. In 22 games at the leadoff spot, Heyward hit .349 with five homers, 15 RBIs and also scored 23 runs in his new role.
Going into Spring Training, he will be expected to be the leadoff hitter for the Braves after his success from that spot in limited action a year ago. If he fails to produce, Frank Wren may question why he signed the 24-year-old to a two-year contract for $13.3 million in order to avoid arbitration this offseason to begin with. With Heyward, the Braves know that they’re getting a great player on defense, evidenced by his Gold Glove from two seasons ago; however, what they want to see now is an improvement with his bat.
After all, this was the same guy who hit .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBIs in 158 games during a healthy 2012 season. Barring any setbacks going into the 2014 campaign, Braves fans should expect to see the player they saw two seasons ago. However, if Heyward can’t live up to the hype and get back to his old form at the plate, he may not be wearing an Atlanta uniform for much longer.