Mel Ott, 1929: .328/.449/.635, 172 wRC+
Alex Rodriguez, 1996: .358/.414/.631, 169 wRC+
Ted Williams, 1939: .327/.436/.609, 168 wRC+
Al Kaline, 1955: .340/.421/.546, 160 wRC+
Frank Robinson, 1956: .290/.379/.558, 149 wRC+
Mickey Mantle, 1952: .311/.394/.530, 166 wRC+
In the history of baseball, those are the six seasons where a player has posted an OPS over .900 as a 20-year-old. Of those six players, five are in the hall of fame, and the other guy will be when he’s done playing.
To say that Jason Heyward is putting himself in some pretty impressive company might be the understatement of the year. And yet, here he is, a 20-year-old rookie putting up a .290/.409/.580 line for the season (166 wRC+), and showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.
In April, Heyward flashed some greatness but also looked young and inexperienced. He struck out 26 times in 89 trips to the plate, and while the walks and home runs still made him a valuable player, there was a pretty easy path to getting him out.
In May, he has 70 plate appearances and just five strikeouts. He hasn’t lost any aggressiveness, as he’s still drawn 12 walks, and his power is still there, as 10 of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases. In his second month in the big leagues, he’s hitting .357/.471/.661, good for a .481 wOBA.
Again, he’s 20 years old. Even the greatest players of all time have struggled to be impact players at age 20. Ken Griffey Jr hit .300/.366/.481. Willie Mays hit .274/.356/.472. Hank Aaron hit .280/.322/.447.
This is an astounding performance from a rookie, the best we’ve seen since Albert Pujols took baseball by storm in 2001. He hit .329/.403/.610 as a 21-year-old. Heyward is matching that performance, only doing it a year earlier in his career. He still has to keep it up for another four months, of course, but if anything, he’s gotten better as the season has gone along.
The hype surrounding Heyward was intense, but it apparently wasn’t intense enough. We’re in the midst of watching one of the great rookie seasons of all time from a player whose peers are still working out the kinks in A-ball.
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