Jason Heyward Ready to Take the Next Step with Atlanta Braves

Michael WatersContributor IMarch 19, 2010

JUPITER, FL - MARCH 17:  Outfielder Jason Heyward #71 of the Atlanta Braves bats against the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium on March 17, 2010 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Bobby Cox may want to rethink his retirement.


Never shy about elevating top prospects, throughout the years Cox has overseen the arrival of a number of impact players at Turner Field.


Steve Avery, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Brian McCann, and most recently Tommy Hanson are among the high-profile stars to begin their careers under Cox’s guidance.


Now in Cox’s final year as skipper, Jason Heyward is ready to add his name to the lengthy list and cement himself in right field for years to come.


Despite the ever-growing hype surrounding him, Heyward has earned his position as baseball’s top prospect, not only through scary raw talent, but also with intangibles that belie his age.


Heyward’s plate discipline is beyond his years, and his 6'4", 245-pound frame provides limitless power, which he displayed in blasting a 450-feet homer off Max Scherzer this spring. Heyward has superb bat speed and has shown he can hit for average, with a .318 average through three minor league seasons.


Heyward has the speed and strong arm necessary to capably handle right field.


The left-handed batter doesn’t shy away when lefties take the mound either. Heyward has shown the willingness to stand in the box and take hard, inside pitches. In fact, Heyward hit .339 off lefties in 2009, a step down from his .319 against right-handed pitchers.


Inevitably Heyward is compared to stars of yesteryear. Among the comparisons is Fred McGriff, a similarly built slugger who once played for the Braves.


However, another comparison made by longtime manger Jim Leyland is even more complementary. Leyland stated that the only player he had seen with such patience at the plate with such a young age was none other than Albert Pujols.


The high praise is not limited to mangers. Teammates Chipper Jones and Brian McCann have also expressed their belief in Heyward.


The Braves drafted Heyward in the first round of the 2007 Amateur draft with the 14th pick. Since that time Heyward has wasted no time on his trip to the show. He began the 2008 season as Baseball America’s 28th-ranked prospect but ascended quickly to the fifth spot before the beginning of the 2009 season


After splitting time between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi, where he hit .352 with 30 RBI in only 47 games, Heyward moved to Triple-A Gwinnett. There he continued his dominance, hitting .364 and knocking in two RBI in only three games.


If he leaves spring training on the 25-man roster, Heyward could be just what the Braves need to send Cox out of Atlanta on top.


Atlanta is a team with a deep rotation anchored by Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and one of the most promising young pitchers in the game, Tommy Hanson. A bounce-back year from Chipper Jones with solid contributions from Heyward could allow Atlanta to make a run at the NL Wild Card.