Have We Set Up Atlanta Phenom Jason Heyward To Fall Flat on His Face?
The Washington Nationals made one of the best moves of spring training on March 20th, they sent down Stephen Strasburg.
Having made the decision that the young phenom would start the season in Double A, the Nationals designated him for assignment, which caused the hype surrounding Strasburg to deflate like a punctured beach ball.
As a result, Strasburg has been relieved of the immense pressure of being billed the next big thing, at least for the time being. In fact, he has lived a life of virtual obscurity over the past couple of weeks, well, at least by his standards.
Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Nationals decision to send down Strasburg is not excluded from this basic principle of physics.
When Strasburg was demoted, the pressure taken off of him was quickly transferred to Atlanta Braves' budding star Jason Heyward. In a heartbeat, Heyward filled Strasburg's role as the next big thing and spring training darling.
Heyward entered spring training widely considered one of the game's best young prospects, and leaves spring training as this generation's Barry Bonds in the words of Tim Kurkjian.
The expectations surrounding Jason Heyward have been set tremendously high, perhaps too high. Have we set up Jason Heyward to fall flat on his face? There are a lot of reasons to think we very well may have.
For one, Heyward is a mere 20-years old and won't celebrate his 21st birthday until late August—perhaps just in time to legally enjoy a nice glass of champagne should the Braves clinch the NL East or Wild Card title.
However Braves' fans, before you indulge your dreams of Heyward leading your club to the playoffs, keep in mind that the young man has only 173 career at bats above Class A ball under his belt.
Going head to head with the Roy Halladays and Johan Santanas of the world is much different than the quality of the pitching he saw when he slugged .296 with 34 runs, 10 homeruns, and 31 RBI in just 189 at bats last season with the High Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
Heyward's power has already become the stuff of legend. His manager, Bobby Cox, compared the sound the ball makes coming off of Heyward's bat to the sound produced by the swings of Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron.
Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson compared the sound to that of a shotgun, adding that he nearly dove for cover the first time he heard Heyward take batting practice.
Heyward's tape measure batting practice longballs are all fine and good, but it doesn't mean a whole lot if he can't bring it to the plate come game time.
In 876 career minor league at bats, Heyward hit 29 homeruns. That translates to approximately one bomb every 30 at bats, or about the same ratio as Kevin Kouzmanoff posted in 2009.
Many have pointed to Heyward's tremendous spring training as evidence that the kid is ready to blow up, but a closer analysis reveals mixed results.
In 59 spring training at bats Heyward hit .305 with 11 runs, 1 homerun, and 5 RBI. However, Heyward did the vast majority of his damage early.
This is concerning because early in spring training hitters mostly see pitchers who have little or no shot at a roster spot, and the veteran's they do see are usually working out kinks, trying out new pitches, or both.
Late in spring training, when most long shots for a roster spot have been sent down or released and veterans are rounding into shape, Heyward struggled mightily.
He hit just .188 over his final 10 spring training games, and went just 1 for 14 with eight strikeouts in his final five contests.
At 6'5” and 245 pounds and bounding with athleticism, Jason Heyward likely deserves the title of physical freak of nature, which is usually reserved for 6'10” swingmen who can shoot and 325 pound left tackles with incredible footwork.
Furthermore, it is likely that he will become very good baseball player. Perhaps one day he'll even be called the Barry Bonds of his generation.
However, is it fair to burden the 20-year old with comparisons to the aforementioned Hall of Famers and a hype so tremendous that Buster Olney acted like a giddy little school girl recently when discussing his upcoming opportunity to see Heyward play in person for the first time?
Have we set up Jason Heyward to fall flat on his face?
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