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Jason Heyward joined the 20-20 club last season.
Jason Heyward announced himself loud and clear to the baseball world with a three-run home run in his first major league plate appearance.
The fast start was tantalizing, but the dedication and hard work that Heyward exhibited to get his career back on track in 2012 has the Braves even more excited about what his future holds.
At the tender age of 20, Heyward finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, while earning All-Star honors in 2010. Unfortunately, a strained ligament in his left thumb slowed him down around mid-season and caused him to miss out on the All-Star experience.
Heyward launched his career with a strong rookie slash line of .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs, 72 RBI and 83 runs scored in 142 games.
However, his second season followed a script that has been handed to many a rising star. It is known as the "sophomore slump."
It was certainly not pretty, nor was it indicative of his talent level. Heyward ended 2011 with a batting line of .227/.319/.389 while connecting for just 14 home runs in 128 games.
Those numbers led to some obvious questions.
Can Heyward bounce back? Which Heyward will the Braves see in 2012?
With those questions in the air, Heyward discussed his struggles with Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last spring.
“All of us got here by doing what we know how to do, whether it’s mentally, physically, what have you,” Heyward said. “You want to stay as close to that as possible. Keep having fun, keep trying to get better. I’m 22 years old, and I didn’t get here this quickly by not making adjustments, by not learning on the fly, by not handling pressure situations, by not knowing how fans or media might take things. I’ve done a lot of things the right way, and that’s why I am who I am and part of the reason why I’ve been successful.”
He then responded on the field by putting together a fine junior campaign.
Working to correct bad habits caused by his thumb injury, Heyward set a number of career-highs in 2012. Those included 27 home runs, 82 RBI and 93 runs scored. The expectations were largely met, though the best is likely yet to come.
Scouts and executives have long raved over the well-rounded game that Heyward possesses. Now he roams the outfield with two other men who share similar talents. The glaring difference between the three players is that Heyward is built like a tank, standing 6'5" and weighing 240 pounds.
Though expert projections may help fans determine the numbers that Heyward is capable of on a yearly basis, he is not going into the season trying to meet some requisite statistics.
In this week's ESPN The Magazine, Heyward shared his outlook on turning ability into results with Eddie Matz.
"I've got a skill set that is rare," Heyward says. "If I can get enough at-bats, the numbers will come."
He is not the prototypical second-place hitter, but that appears to be where Heyward will be slotted in the batting order to open the season. He has put up solid numbers while batting second during his career, and Heyward should benefit from the power-packed heart of the order that follows him.