The first thing I will forever remember about Jason Heyward was his very first at bat as a major leaguer.
Facing a 2-0 count against a veteran pitcher in Carlos Zambrano, Heyward’s first swing connected with Zambrano’s fastball and flew into orbit, as did every Braves fan’s expectations for the 20 year old rookie.
And the guy didn't disappoint.
Heyward was leading the Braves in homers and RBI at the end of April and continued to produce at an extremely high level in May before he got a thumb injury sliding into third against the Arizona Diamondbacks, causing him to slump and lose power before going on the disabled list for 15 days in June.
He came back stronger than ever though, hitting .356 in July, .299 in August and .278 in September.
He raised his average from pre-All-Star break at .251 to hit .302 after, leaving him at a season average of .277.
Heyward possesses what will become plus-power (he hit 17 homers as a rookie), a great ability to get on base (.393 OBP), a stunning ability to come through in the clutch (several game-winning hits), a .976 fielding percentage and he will only get better.
Now to 2011, Heyward’s second year.
The age-old question for players who impress as rookies is: Do they continue to improve, or do they take a step back?
A sophomore slump, so to speak.
I don’t see this with Heyward. After getting three months of video and knowing what looked like weaknesses to go off of, Heyward truly came through for the Braves with his impressive second half. He made adjustments to the problems that developed from his troubles with his thumb and looks to be a scary player heading into the upcoming season.
Heyward should grow into a perennial .300, 30-homer, 100-RBI, 20-steal player.
He possesses what most would consider five tools, and nothing seems to have changed after his rookie year.
This year, I think Heyward will take the next step to put closer to those numbers.
If he hits in the No. 2 hole like he did most of last year, then his RBI total will be down, but I could see a .290, 25-homer, 100-runs-type of season out of that spot and possibly in the 80 RBI range if he gets put in the sixth spot.