2010 MLB Predictions: Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward Is a Fantasy Beast

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst IMarch 3, 2010

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Outfielder Jason Heyward #77 of the Atlanta Braves poses for a photo during Spring Training Photo Day on February 19, 2009 at Champions Stadium at Walt Disney World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

If, like me, you're getting set for another year of fantasy baseball, I'm sure the start of spring training has got you thinking about draft day.

If you haven't already started to look in to this year's sleepers, last year's busts, and 2010's "can't miss" studs, one name that you might not be too familiar with yet is Jason Heyward.

If you have been diligently doing your fantasy research over the winter months, or maybe if you're just an Atlanta Braves fan, you get giddy at the slight mention of his name.

And for good reason.

Simply put, uber-prospect Heyward is a beast, and he is likely to figure in the Braves' Major League plans at some point this season, if not from Opening Day.

The 20-year old is fighting for the right field job right now, and in my opinion it is his to lose. Bobby Cox said the sound the ball makes coming off Heyward's bat reminds him to Hank Aaron in the batting cages. Chipper Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he reminds him of a young Fred McGriff.

The young left-handed power hitter is 2-for-3 with a double, two walks, and a steal in the first two games of Spring Training against the Mets, but don't read too much into that just yet.

What you should take note of is his skill set. He has above-average power and above-average speed while possessing a great eye and elite contact levels. He's also 6'4" and he checked in to spring training at 245 pounds after reportedly putting on 20 pounds of muscle over the winter.

He has every potential to be the "next big thing" in fantasy circles and, given the right opportunity and development, could be a fixture in the Atlanta outfield for some time to come.

So, how does this help your fantasy plans for 2010, assuming you're not in a keeper or dynasty league?

Well, the biggest question mark over the 2009 Minor League Player of the Year's head right now is playing time. Matt Diaz, Eric Hinske, and Omar Infante are all theoretically above him on the depth chart right now based on seniority and Major League experience.

But Infante is pretty much a jack-of-all-trades who can do everything apart from pitch and catch, Diaz is 31 years old with a history of injuries, and Hinske is unlikely to see more 200 at-bats this year.

While you expect Melky Cabrera to start in left and Nate McLouth to patrol center, the exact roles of the right fielders have yet to be set in stone.

Assuming Heyward gets 350 at bats in 2010, how valuable is he on draft day?

I don't think it's too unrealistic to expect 12 home runs, 60 RBI, 10 steals, and a .285 average from the rookie. With those kinds of numbers, you would expect him to finish the season along the lines of a David DeJesus, Chris Coghlan, and Mark Teahan.

The only problem is this trio of lower-ranked outfielders are going between the 18th and 26th rounds of 12-team drafts. That is when they are even getting drafted at all...DeJesus is going undrafted 80 percent of the time.

Heyward is currently getting drafted in just half of mock drafts with an average draft position of 265 (or 22nd round in a 12-team league).

You have to imagine that his value is going to rise as Spring Training goes on and rocket if he skips AAA and starts the season as the Braves' starting right fielder.

What could a full season of at bats look like? Well, you have to figure that he is capable of 18-20 home runs, 90 RBI, 100 runs, 85 walks, and 16 steals.

These kind of numbers would make him much more valuable than someone like Chris Young and on par with a stud like Dustin Pedroia, who is a third round pick in most leagues, regardless of format.

Think of Heyward as a J.D. Drew with speed, a Willie Bloomquist with power, or a Curtis Granderson with a better batting average.

He is very much for real, and he could explode in 2010, so don't be afraid to bid for his services. Even if he spends two months of the season in the minors, he'll still likely provide more value in two-thirds of a season than similar outfielders going in the latter rounds of the draft.

Yes, he's unproven about the AA level, but rarely do you get the chance to snag a player of this quality so far deep into the draft—he has all the tools to become a star.

Pay for 350 at bats and gamble on his monster upside. You can thank me later.