Chris Heisey made his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. A year earlier he put up a .900 OPS with 22 home runs and 21 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A. Following his break-out season on the farm he played in the Arizona Fall League.
Heisey has yet to break out in the big leagues. He’s had his moments – he went deep 18 times in 2011 — but for the most part he’s been a spare part. Seeing time at all three outfield positions, he’s averaged fewer than 300 plate appearances per season. His career slash line is a nondescript .252/.307/.425.
The 29-year-old hasn’t changed much since he broke in. His skill set is the same, as is his quest to improve certain facets of his game. That became clear when we revisited an interview I did with him during his Arizona Fall League stint.
The first thing we addressed was mechanical adjustments. In 2009, Heisey told me he had “almost a no-stride swing.”
“I’ve probably had 10 different stances and 10 different stride lengths since then,” Heisey told me earlier this month. “But one thing I’ve gone back to recently is kind of a no-stride approach with two strikes. That’s to put more balls in play and cut down on my strikeouts. Before, I’d chase pitches in the dirt because I wasn’t shortening up with two strikes. I need to do a better job of battling and draw more walks.”
In our earlier interview, Heisey told me he’d like to “increase his walk numbers a little bit,” adding that OBP is more important that batting average. Those opinions haven’t changed.
“Since I’ve been in the big leagues I’ve walked very infrequently,” admitted Heisey, whose career walk rate is a pedestrian 5.5. “That being said, I don’t think I’m a lost cause as far as my on-base percentage. That’s something I feel I can continue to get better at as I get older.
“The more times you can get on, the better chance your team has to score runs. Batting average is great – they show it on the Jumbotron every night – but getting on base is the name of the game.”
Heisey and I didn’t talk about Joey Votto in 2009, but the Reds’ OBP machine was worth bringing up now. What is his opinion of Votto hitting in the two-hole?
“I’ve always been a firm believer that you put your best hitter in the three spot,” opined Heisey. “That being said, Joey has an ability to get on base and it doesn’t hurt to have him on in front of our big thumpers. You want the first and second guys in your lineup to get on base and he’s the best in the National League at getting on base. I certainly don’t think hitting him there is a bad thing.”
Heisey would be the last person to complain about hitting second. In 2009 he told me it’s “probably where I enjoy hitting the most.” Again, nothing has changed.
“I’d still say the two-hole is my favorite spot in the order to hit,” said Heisey. “I don’t get a chance to hit there very often, but because of my ability to bunt and run, it’s a good spot for me. I probably bunt a little less than I used to, but only because the world knows I like to bunt. Third basemen play me with that in mind.”
The speedy outfielder has 20 bunt hits as a Red, including one against the Red Sox a few hours after our recent conversation. What about the sacrifice bunt? He has just 10 in his career, a surprisingly low number given former manager Dusty Baker‘s propensity to give up free outs.
“I think there’s a time and place for it,” said Heisey. “I’m not opposed to getting a guy to third base with one out. But if there’s a runner on first – depending on where you’re at in the order – giving up that out can kill a little bit of your rally. Personally, I’d shy away from that one. But sometimes you do have to play a little small ball, especially if you’re not swinging the bat very well.”
Heisey has never been good at hitting the ball the other way. He wasn’t in 2009 – “I don’t spread the ball around as much as maybe I’d like to” – and he isn’t now. The right-handed hitter points to his swing path as a reason why.
“I’m definitely still more of a pull hitter,” acknowledged Heisey. “I’m pretty steep to the ball. If your bat is coming 90 degrees parallel to the ground, that’s a flat swing. If you’re coming up from the ground and finishing higher, that’s an uppercut. A steep swing, for me, is starting high and finishing down closer to the ground. Ideally you want to have your swing path on the path of the ball, but the more I’ve tried to flatten my swing… it just hasn’t worked. I pretty much have to stick with what got me here”
In Heisey’s opinion, speed has a lot to do with why he’s in the big leagues. That extends to his outfield play, which includes 272 games in left, 82 in center, and 61 in right. His ability to play all three was a point of pride when we spoke in 2009. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a preference.
“Center is still my favorite position and I feel I can play it at a high level,” said Heisey.“My top-end speed isn’t Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon – I’m not an elite speed guy – but I can hold my own out there. Speed is what got me drafted back in 2006 and I’m still very confident in my ability to play center.”
Four-and-a-half years ago, Heisey told me, “I’ll play wherever they put me.” That hasn’t changed. What has changed is how often he does play. When I asked for final thoughts on then-versus-now, he admitted he’d relish an opportunity to see what he could do with regular playing time.
“Since I’ve been in the major leagues I’ve never been a starter on a consistent basis,” said Heisey. “I haven’t gotten those consistent reps like I did in the minors. Coming off the bench is one of the toughest things to do in baseball. If I were an everyday player, I’d like to think my numbers would be better.”
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