Ever since being selected in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves, big things have been expected of Jason Heyward. He made the NL All-Star team as a 20-year-old rookie in 2010, but injuries and inconsistency have led many to question whether the expectations for the outfielder were too high. Heyward has put it all together after the slow start to the 2014 season, and he’s playing well enough to earn a spot on the NL All-Star roster this year.
When the Braves were having trouble getting runners on base in front of Freddie Freeman last season, manager Fredi Gonzalez moved Heyward up to the leadoff spot in the order. He flourished in that role, hitting .322 and scoring 31 runs in 30 starts as the leadoff hitter. Gonzalez hoped Heyward would continue to provide a spark at the top of the order again this year, and the right-fielder continued to hit well in Spring Training. Through the first 30 games of the 2014 regular season, however, Heyward hit only .223 and scored only 12 runs.
In the 27 games since, Heyward has been the most consistent bat in the lineup. He’s hit safely in 22 of those 27 games, only three times failing to reach base at least once. He’s raised his batting average 54 points since May 6, and trails only Freeman for the team lead in walks.
A big reason for his turnaround has been a change in approach. Heyward has been more willing to slap the ball up the middle and to left field, which has led to the majority of his hits being singles. While he has only one double since May 5, he does have four home runs over that stretch, showing that he can still hit for power. He is susceptible to popping up when pitched up in the zone, but his line drive percentage is the best it’s ever been.
Focusing solely on his improved hitting would be leaving out the other impressive aspects of his game. Heyward is an excellent baserunner, often showing an innate ability to take the extra base. He has nine steals and has only been caught twice, and he should get to 20 steals for the second time in his young career.
Then, there’s his defense. He is second to only Jose Bautista in assists by a right-fielder, and his 17 defensive runs saved is the best mark among all MLB outfielders. Combine his stellar defense with his resurgent bat, and Heyward is the eighth most valuable position player in the National League, according to WAR.
The reality is that Heyward will not get the votes needed to start in the All-Star game, and he shouldn’t with Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen all more deserving of being voted as starters. But when you consider Heyward’s recent surge at the plate and his all-around value as an outfielder, he is definitely deserving of being selected as a reserve.