Tommy Hanson's Arrival Means Jason Heyward Is Next

James HulkaAnalyst IJuly 17, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 12: U.S. Futures All-Star Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves runs onto the field during the 2009 XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium on July 12, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In the past few weeks, others around baseball have gotten to see why Jason Heyward is getting a lot of attention.

Those fans who follow the Braves have known about Heyward since the day he was drafted. A local product from Georgia, Jason Heyward was taken with the 14th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft.

He's met the challenge at every level—and this past weekend, those who watched the Futures Game got a chance to see why the Braves refuse to include him in any trade.

With Matt Wieters and David Price already in the majors, the Braves now have the No. 1 prospect in all of minor league baseball in their farm system. 

Like Tommy Hanson, he's already good at such a young age, and there's still room to get even better.

Athleticism is nothing new in Heyward's family. His uncle played college basketball on the 1964 UCLA championship team under John Wooden. Both of his parents are Ivy League graduates (Dartmouth) where his father was a standout basketball player in his own right.

Since getting drafted just 25 months ago, Heyward's list of accomplishments in the minors are already lengthy.

June 2008: South Atlantic League Midseason All-Star.

August 2008: South Atlantic League Postseason All-Star and Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. Finished third in hitting in the SAL at age 18 with a .323 average.

September 2008: Baseball America Class A All-Star and Minor League All-Star.

May 2009: Carolina League Player of the Week.

July 2009: 1-for-2 in MLB Futures Game in St. Louis.

Will September 2009 include a major-league call-up at age 20?

Earlier this month, Heyward earned a promotion from High-A Myrtle Beach (spacious pitcher's park) to AA Mississippi. In 49 games this season at Myrtle Beach, Heyward hit .296 with a .369 on-base percentage, slugged .519 with 10 HR and 31 RBI in 49 games.

The other number that makes you take notice is that during that stint, he had 21 walks to 30 strikeouts.

Since his promotion, Heyward has been scorching:

.417 batting average, one home run, 10 RBI, .476 OBP, .750 slugging percentage for a OPS of 1.226 in 10 games. 

In those 10 games, he also has five doubles, two triples, and only two strikeouts compared with four walks.

He won't keep those numbers up, but there's no reason to think he won't be a high average hitter the rest of this season and probably hit about 20 home runs.

The comparisons that Heyward has drawn are extremely telling.

Steve Phillips of ESPN obviously copied someone else's line by saying Heyward was a "more athletic version of Fred McGriff."

One scout compared him to Justin Morneau—a sweet lefty swing with power that is still developing.

Physical comparison's because of his position as a right-fielder make others see a left-handed version of Dave Winfield, or a Darryl Strawberry in his prime.

Watching the Futures Game on Sunday, after the four-hour rain delay gave people an understanding of why one AL scout said, "[Heyward's] BP was the best one that I saw all day."

In the first inning, with Heyward starting in right field for the US team, he made a beautiful sliding play on Barbaro Canizares' sinking liner. He didn't catch the ball before it skipped on the ground, but the range he showed, the quick reaction, and the awareness to try to sell the catch to the umpire while not getting consumed with the call showed his maturity.

His first at-bat showed why he's projected as a perfect No. 3 hitter in the majors.

After former Braves prospect Tyler Flowers lined a single to center, Heyward smoked a single off the left-handed pitcher on the first pitch. His numbers have shown him to be a patient hitter in the minors, but this showed his pitch recognition and intelligence at the plate, as well as how the ball jumps off his bat.

The stats alone don't make Heyward a star in the making.

Alex Rodriguez has the stats to be a star, but he's too consumed with his self-image and lets the mental aspect of the game become a hindrance.

Jason Heyward, by accounts of most scouts and baseball insiders, is intelligent, modest, humble, hard-working, and extremely personable, especially for someone who's still only 19 years old.

An imposing physical specimen at 6'4" and 225 pounds, it makes it easier to like him seeing that big, easy smile come across his face.

Braves fans might be smiling soon, as sometime within the next year, they'll likely be cheering on Jason Heyward as the starting right-fielder for the Atlanta Braves.

All indications are that he'll be the heir-apparent star the team needs for years going forward. It's always a great feeling when the home grown kid becomes a star, yet knows how to be calm, appreciative, and mature without letting apparent success mess with his head.

Time will tell, but Heyward is giving notice that his thunderous bat and engaging personality aren't far away.