Entering his fourth season with the Cincinnati Reds, outfielder Chris Heisey will be a key player in the upcoming season.
Heisey caught everyone by surprise in 2010 by hitting four pinch-hit home runs. Fans have been calling for him to get more consistent playing time ever since. Unfortunately for Heisey, Jonny Gomes (2011) and Ryan Ludwick (2012) have been given the starting jobs in left field. When Drew Stubbs struggled last season, fans wanted Heisey to take over in center.
There's no doubt that Heisey can play in the big leagues. His sensational play has fans wanting more, but he will have to settle for a bench role.
The 28-year-old is now arguably the fastest player on the roster, and he can play every outfield position. His aggressive play on defense usually pays off, but he takes a lot of risks and will sometimes dive for balls without having much of a chance to make a play.
As a pinch-hitter in 2012, he hit .316 but failed to hit a home run. He is a .329 pinch-hitter for his career, so he has shown the ability to get key hits off the bench late in games.
The outfielder is also a terrific bunter. He can surprise teams by laying down a bunt for a hit or move runners over with a sacrifice.
Like most of the hitters in this lineup, Heisey is at his best when he swings early in the count. He has hit .342 during the first two pitches of at-bats in his career. Pinch-hitters need to be ready to swing early in the counts, and he is one of the best in the league at doing so.
Heisey had a chance to win the left field job last year, but his average hovered around .200 for the first six weeks of the season. Ludwick was hitting more home runs and eventually caught fire.
With Ludwick in left, Shin-Soo Choo in center and Jay Bruce in right, Heisey will be on the bench in 2013. However, he will be a vital part of the team.
If anyone in the outfield gets hurt, Heisey will be the next man up. Choo hit only .199 against southpaws last year; Heisey hit .274 in against lefties. There is a (slim) possibility of a platoon situation if Choo does that poorly again this season.
Heisey's best chance to make a difference will be in late-game situations. The right-handed hitter will be the man called upon with the game on the line in a pinch-hit appearance. When Cincinnati is within a run late in games, he could also find himself coming off the bench to run.
Not only will he be a key player on offense, but he will find himself entering games on defense late in games. Ludwick isn't a liability in the outfield, but Heisey is a much better defensive player. While Choo is learning center field, Heisey has shown that he can make plays in center.
Although it's not the role that he would like, he will get the chance to be an important player this season. His versatility gives the Reds the ability to give starters days off without losing much in terms of production.
Heisey will need to show that he can hit consistently when he gets the chance to start consecutive games, but he will continue to be an important player for Cincinnati as a bench player.
*All stats are from ESPN.com