Jason Heyward started his Major League Baseball journey on Opening Day in 2010 with a home run on his first swing—at the age of 20.
He went on to have one of the better rookie years in recent memory, including ending up with the fourth highest on-base percentage (.393) in the National League.
Freddie Freeman's journey will really begin (he was called up last September) this year, as he will be the team's first baseman barring a catastrophe in spring training. He ripped up AAA last year and will look to continue his dominance with his best friend for the next 15 years in Atlanta.
The two were best friends, having been drafted in the same year for the Braves, and rose through the minors together until Heyward broke through last year. Being best friends won't bring up any Barry Bonds-Jeff Kent moments up between the two.
These two both have great potential to do big things at the plate and on the field, while both being great people as well.
Here are 10 reasons while the two 21-year-olds will form the best duo in all of baseball going forward.
As stated in the introduction, Heyward has incredible patience at the plate and a great understanding of the strike zone. Even while battling through a thumb injury and losing power because of it, Heyward still managed to get on base at an elite rate.
This points to an absolutely great future for the right fielder, who many think can become the best player in baseball very soon.
Heyward has also been noted by teammates for his work ethic and makeup, which was apparent last year as the season wore on. He's a very serious player that wants to succeed at a high level while helping the Braves win. It's safe to say that without him the Braves don't come close to the playoffs in 2010.
Freeman has come in this spring and raised some eyebrows with his all-around play, including going 3-for-3 one day with three doubles. He's more vibrant and fun-loving than Heyward but also says he knows "when it's time to get serious."
Freeman's future at the plate and on the field lead many to believe that he will be around a long time, and his work ethic will only help him get better.
This goes without saying for Heyward, but he and Freeman are among the few duos that are both ready to play every day at the major league level. This makes them the early favorites to be the duo of the next decade.
The legend of the duo could start this year, as there is the possibility that is they could combine to hit 50 homers and knock in about 150-175 runs. Both guys should also hit for a healthy average, as I figure Heyward will end up around .290 and Freeman about .270 this year.
The key for both is to just stay healthy and make adjustments. I feel confident in Heyward making the proper adjustments, as he hit .307 in the second half last season.
With guys like Brian McCann and Chipper Jones, you can be sure that Freeman will have plenty of help when it comes to making adjustments and getting better as the season wears on.
There is no Freeman for Buster Posey as of right now in San Fransisco, though Brandon Belt is on his way. There is no immediate guy other than maybe Desmond Jennings for Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay.
Some could argue for guys like Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin, but neither of them seems to have Heyward's star power, and Freeman could end up better than both.
The argument could be made in Kansas City with guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer both being top hitting prospects, but neither of them has shown what he can do at the big league level, so they get defaulted behind the Braves duo.
They are at the very least the favorites right now in the National League, with all due respect to the rest of the teams. If they both live up to their potential, you can forget about it.
When asked about Heyward's rookie season, Freeman said that it only drove him to play harder and to get better.
The two best friends work extremely well together, and seeing each other on an everyday basis is just going to push them even further along their development.
With the work ethic the two already have, can they really push further just for the sake of a friendly competition? We will have to wait and see. They may not think about it, but I'm sure as they start to put the years under their belt, they will be looking at each other more and more.
This also points to the fact that they are going to keep each other in check and help each other as much as possible. This can only be a good thing for the Braves going forward.
As spoken of earlier, Heyward's thumb cut off a great deal of his power in the second half, but all signs point to it not affecting him any in the future.
If it does not affect him, then you are looking at a rare all-around player that brings something to every offensive category.
If last year is any indication of what he brings athletically, you are looking at a guy that should average 30-plus homers when fully developed along with 15-20 steals a year. His average should be very good with an off-the-charts on-base percentage.
He is already the likely face of the Braves, and he may soon be the face of baseball.
They are both 21 years old; all of the other groups mentioned earlier have combined ages older than these two. This also means they have more time to live up to potential and grow.
They both have gigantic frames that can still fill out, which is a sign that maturation and strength can still be gained.
They will also have enough time to get over the unforgiving learning curve that comes with facing the best pitchers on the planet. Heyward had his struggles last year, in part due to the thumb, but made the adjustments.
Still, he will have more to make and Freeman hasn't yet scratched the surface of what it is like to face some of these guys. He will have to make the proper adjustments or will fall to mediocrity. I think he will make the adjustments, though, and become the hitter he has the potential to be.
When you look two or three years down the line, most think that Heyward will have made his statement as perhaps the best outfielder (if not player) in the game, while Freeman should have progressed into an All-Star-caliber first baseman. Both also expect to be right in the middle of the lineup when the time comes.
Now, Braves fans, tell me how this looks. Somewhere within five spots in the lineup, you have Heyward, Freeman, McCann and Dan Uggla. Seems pretty dang good, doesn't it?
I can see Freeman hitting in the second or sixth hole with the other guys behind or in front of him. If he gets on base more so than he does now, he could be a great fit for the two hole while getting a ton of at-bats.
If he hits sixth, though, you get to have a very good first baseman hitting in a spot to protect either McCann or Uggla. Looks like a win-win.
Heyward is the No. 3 batter for the future in my mind. I think he hits second this year, where I feel like he is our best option because of his ability to get on base as well as he does.
No matter where you put them, the key is just to make sure they are getting the at-bats needed. By the time they are 25, they may be the No. 3 and 4 hitters in this lineup.
At 6'5", 225, Freeman is a very, very big guy with some room to grow (do you see those skinny legs?). Most don't think he will ever be a 30-homer hitter, at least not consistently, due to a swing that is more built for line drives in the gaps.
Let's say Freeman gets up to 235-240 pounds, which he can do and still be very agile around the bag at first, and as he grows older he adds just a touch of loft to his swing, and that natural development makes him stronger. See where I'm going?
Freeman's swing is what doesn't profile to be a power threat, but in my opinion everything else does. Those line-drive doubles in the gaps may soon become rocket shots over the fences. His natural growth in strength also points to even more power from him.
Freeman is projected as a 20-25 home run hitter, which is still plenty enough with the average and defense he will bring to the table. But what if that number jumps to 25-30, his value shoots up, no? What if he shows that he can hit 30 homers consistently? Then you are talking about one of the overall best first basemen in the league.
This is a good bit of optimism, but it can be done. Just the slightest loft in his swing could help produce more power than what he is showing now—though I would gladly take the 25 homers from him every year if that's what he ends up doing.
The sky is the limit for Heyward, and that is where he will likely end up. I left off so much on slide No. 6 because of this one, so let's break down the main facets of the game.
Heyward's second half and his eye point to the possibility of his first .300 season as early as 2011, but he surely should be all over it for years to come. He could consistently hit in the .310 range for the next decade and a half.
Heyward hit 18 homers with 29 doubles while battling a thumb injury in 2010. Oh, let's not forget that he was also just 20. There is enough raw power to where he should consistently hit 30-35 homers, at least to me. He could have a few seasons where he surpasses the 40-homer mark, though his eye may cost him a few at-bats, as he will draw a ton of walks. That brings us to the next point.
As stated a few times already, Heyward had an outstanding .393 on-base percentage last season. In the second half, his OBP was .419—not bad at all. As Heyward gains a few more points in average, or when he starts to hit .300, he should annually get on base at more than a .400 clip. That's elite-level and one facet of the game at which he is already among the best.
Heyward was 11-of-17 last year in his stolen base attempts. The number improved to 6-of-8 in the second half. He should consistently put up 15-20 steals for much of his career, as he possesses underrated speed. It's not elite-level for a short run, but Heyward is scary fast in a first-to-third situation.
Heyward was fourth among all major league right fielders in 2010 in UZR with a 4.8 rating. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but he is good enough to win a Gold Glove or two at some point in his career.
There isn't much left to say that I haven't already. He is a hard worker and a good person, an obvious choice to be a face of baseball.
As long as Heyward reaches his potential and doesn't have any setbacks, then this is not some unreal prediction for him. There is nothing in the game that Heyward can not do well. It's safe to say that he does everything better than most.
This has been Chipper's team for well over a decade, but when he retires, the torch will be passed to the likes of Heyward, Freeman, Brian McCann, Tommy Hanson, etc. The Braves have as much young talent and potential as any other team in baseball.
All of those guys have All-Star selections all over them, and McCann already has several of those and four Silver Sluggers to his credit.
Hanson is considered to be a sleeper for the Cy Young Award this year and for many years to come.
Then you come back to those 21-year-olds.
It's all there for Freeman and Heyward. Everything they've grown up wanting is within reach. All the hard work and hours spent in the weight room. All the cuts in the cage and the extra fielding practice. All those times riding a bus back and forth to wherever their minor league team was playing.
You can bet your bottom dollar that they are going to take it.