The wait is finally over.
After capping his meteoric rise through the Braves farm system with a monumental spring training performance, 20-year-old rookie sensation Jason Heyward will make his Major League debut in right field for the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day today against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field.
Atlanta’s latest homegrown talent will open the book on what promises to be a long and illustrious career in front of his family, friends, and giddy new fanbase.
“J-Hey Fever” has reached epic proportions around the Atlanta area as of late, and today fans will finally get to usher in the Braves’ new phenom to the Big Show.
Bobby Cox put to end any potential speculation or suspense when he announced Heyward’s addition to Atlanta’s Opening Day roster early on March 26.
While the announcement was one of baseball’s worst kept secrets, typically Cox tends to wait until the completion of spring training before making his final roster moves.
The decision to inform Heyward in advance that he made the team just goes to show how strong an impression the youngster had made on Cox and the deep level of respect the skipper already has for his new right fielder.
Heyward took the news in stride—not hooting and hollering like most 20-year-olds would after receiving the news that they’ve been pegged the new starting right fielder for one of the winningest and most successful franchises in baseball history.
That’s just not his way.
His reaction—calm and poised—is much like the way he goes about his business on and off the field.
J-Hey is a gentle giant of sorts. His monstrous 6'5", 245-pound stature and deep voice seem to contrast with his cool demeanor, eloquence, and class.
Heyward will wear No. 22 in honor of his former high school teammate, who was killed in a car accident.
He is just the kind of kid you root for. He is worthy of being the hero-type figure young fans hope to emulate.
The five-tool talent is every bit the legend on the diamond that he’s been made out to be.
Heyward was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 by both Baseball America and USA Today and was dubbed the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball by numerous experts and media outlets.
The towering home runs he smashed this spring, with one traveling 50 feet out of the park and literally into the sunroof of Assistant GM Bruce Manno’s car, only added to his storybook tale.
While Heyward’s power, strength, and size have garnered him the most attention—with Chipper Jones comparing to his body mass to that of Jevon Kearse—he’s proven to be agile enough to cover tremendous ground in the outfield, while possessing a cannon for an arm, making him all the more impressive.
But what I believe makes J-Hey stand out from the hundreds of other highly touted prospects—most notably the Braves' former right field “phenom” Jeff Francoeur, who also made an early and much hyped ascent to the Majors—is his unparalleled patience at the plate.
Unlike Francoeur, Heyward does not swing for the fences and will gladly take the walk. His balanced swing is one that many young hitters aren’t yet equipped with, and his approach at the plate is wise beyond his years.
This kid is the total package, which makes it not surprising that he’s already been compared to the likes of Willie McCovey and even Albert Pujols.
While there is no doubt a great level of pressure and hype surrounding Heyward, his off the charts makeup eases any concerns the Braves might have had regarding their young star’s much-anticipated debut.
I caution Braves fans to not panic when J-Hey looks human or even overmatched at times, because the kid is learning on the fly, and there will be ups and downs over the course of a long and arduous 162-game season.
However, it is Heyward’s maturity and confidence that will help him endure those normal struggles associated with making adjustments at the Major League level and will also prevent him from crashing and burning at the first sign of adversity.
Many anticipate Heyward will succeed Chipper Jones as the anchor of the Braves offense for the next decade while becoming the new face of the franchise when Jones retires.
There is no one more excited about this prospect than Chipper himself. Jones will mentor Heyward this season and believes J-Hey is the best 20-year-old he has ever seen.
In his opinion, the power-hitting lefty is already leaps and bounds ahead of a young Andruw Jones, who made his debut amidst similar pandemonium at age 19.
Chipper also believes makeup-wise, Heyward is better suited to handle the spotlight than even he was when he came on the scene in 1995.
While Jones admits to being "brash and cocky" as a rookie, he sees no signs of that in Heyward.
In fact, his laid-back demeanor and borderline-introverted personality could help serve him quite well in an attempt to ignore the growing circus that surrounds him.
Heyward finished spring training with a .305 batting average, 10 walks, and a .423 on-base percentage.
The question was never whether Jason Heyward would be in right field for the Atlanta Braves. The question was always when.
His time is now.
The Jason Heyward Era is officially upon us...just beware of where you park your car.
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