Heyward Named Atlanta’s Starting RF

Protect your windshields, Braves fans: Jason Heyward‘s potent lefty bat is coming to Turner Field. The Atlanta Braves officially announced that the best position prospect in the game will open the 2010 season as the club’s starting right fielder.

Just 20, Heyward has pummeled opposing pitchers since the Braves selected him with the 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft. His all-around talents have earned the admiration of all the prospect mavens: Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law named the Georgia prep product the best talent in the minors, while Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein ranked him number two. John Sickels gave Heyward (who would be a junior had he attended UCLA) an A grade.

The 6-4, 220 pound man-child made his full-season debut in 2008, spending almost the entire year at Low-A Rome in the South Atlantic League (he got a late-season cameo in the High-A Carolina League with Myrtle Beach). Collectively, Heyward hit .316/.381/.473 in 533 plate appearances. He displayed some pop (.157 Isolated Power), while controlling the zone pretty well for such a young player (9.6 percent walk rate, 16.6 percent strikeout rate). Heyward was polished on the base paths as well, stealing 15 bags in 18 tries.

This past year, Heyward zoomed from Myrtle Beach to Double-A Mississippi of the Southern League, while getting a few trips to the plate in the International League for Triple-A Gwinnett. In 422 total PA, Heyward authored a .323/.408/.555 line, with a .232 ISO. Heyward walked as often as he whiffed, with 51 BBs and K’s apiece. While not a massive stolen base threat, he had 10 SB in 11 attempts.

Without question, Heyward is a premium keeper pick. But what can he contribute in 2010? CHONE projects Atlanta’s golden child to hit near a league-average clip, with a .258/.324/.416 triple-slash (98 wRC+). That jives with Heyward’s 2009 Major League Equivalent (MLE) line, which was .255/.321/.423 according to Minor League Splits. ZiPS is more optimistic that he can produce right away, forecasting .275/.341/.429 (110 wRC+). PECOTA likes Heyward even more, with a .280/.348/.477 projected line.

Heyward is a prodigious talent, a 20 year-old with the plate approach of a 30 year-old. Though it would be expecting too much for him to be a force at the plate right away, Heyward’s offensive floor for the upcoming season is probably that of an average MLB hitter. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he easily surpasses that level, with a batting line somewhere between his ZIPS and PECOTA projections. The only real quibble regarding Heyward is durability: he missed time during the ’09 regular season with oblique, hip and heel injuries, and he was sent home early from the Arizona Fall League with a hamstring strain and a sore back.

At worst, Heyward figures to be average in 2010. At best, he could be a key contributor in all fantasy leagues. This may be the last time that you can get him without giving up a primo draft pick. Just don’t park too close to the ball park.

(As a side note, Melky Cabrera and Matt Diaz will split time in left field. While that arrangement should make for a productive real-world tandem, there’s little fantasy value to be had.)




Print This Post

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


28 Responses to “Heyward Named Atlanta’s Starting RF”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. escapingNihilism says:

    waste of service time. leave him in AAA for 2-4 weeks

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • philosofool says:

      Agree completely. Matt Diaz is a good bat and a decent fielder–bascially a league average player. If you suppose that Heyward is like most good 20 year olds, he’s a league average hitter. Maybe he’s especially good–then he’s a 3 win player instead of a 2 win player. Okay, great. Over the course of one month, the difference between 3 wins (Heyward, optimistically projected) and 2 wins (Diaz) is 1/6 of a win.

      1/6 win is obviously worth less than the an entire season of Jason Heyward in his prime.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • cavebird says:

        escapingNihilism and philsofool, you aren’t doing the math correctly. If you leave him down for 2-4 weeks to avoid free agency for an extra year, Heyward will be a super 2, meaning all you have done is replace one year of free agency with a fourth arbitration year. The Braves don’t have to lose Heyward if it is a free agent year, they just have to pay market price. Since 3rd year arbitration cases generally get 80% of free market value, I would guess that fourth year arbitration cases get about 90%. Thus, even if Heyward is a super-stud and has a $20 million market value in 6 years, all the Braves save by keeping him down is approximately $2 million in 2016. Is that really worth the possibility of his being down costing the Braves one win in the standings as a contender? I think not. Hell, all it means is that the Braves might sign one less Garrett Anderson type in 2016, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, lol.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • OremLK says:

      This is true for Strasburg because the Nats are not a contending team (not even close), but the Braves are strong contenders for both the division and the wild card.

      Heyward is also a different situation, because he’s going to understand that your only motivation is to screw him out of money if you send him down just for a couple weeks… you want to keep on good terms with your superstar of the future.

      With Strasburg, he has no pro experience outside the AFL, so it makes sense that he’d be given a half year in the minors first, and he’s going to understand that he still has to work his way up the ladder like everybody else, even if he starts higher than most. Heyward, on the other hand, has already touched AAA and spent 2+ years in the minors. He’s ready and he knows he’s ready.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Keep on good terms? Like Heyward will give up millions once a FA because the Braves were nice/stupid. Reminds me of the saying, “just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean the bull won’t charge you.”

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Sekrah says:

    escaping… Err.. WRONG… This is Bobby Cox’ last season and Heyward can help Atlanta win games in a year where many of their veterans are near the end of the line (Chipper). Sending him to AAA would be foolish. Anyone GM who even THINKS of sending this guy to AAA to protect service time should be immediately sh!t channed after they miss the playoffs by 1 game.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Vegemitch says:

    Sekrah – as explained in the article, it is very highly unlikely that Heyward contributes right away and will in all likelihood be quite average this season. If the team is trying to win now, it’s actually riskier to play Heyward than to go with Diaz as the starter. Even if Heyward is destined to be a world beater from day one, having him in the minors for a while would cost the team maybe 0.5 wins or so.
    All in all it’s more likely that starting Heyward from day one will cost the team a win over the course of the season than to add any.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • R M says:

      How can you say that it is highly unlikely that Heyward will produce immediately? Have you ever heard of a guy named Ryan Braun? Or Troy Tulowitzki? Or Evan Longoria? Heyward is on the same talent level as those guys.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Swyck says:

      I disagreee.

      If Heyward is just average then that is an improvement over Diaz. In addition, there’s a reasonable chance that he exceeds expectations and rakes right away. There’s not much expectation that Diaz does more than what he’s done before.

      If they want to win now they should go with the better player.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Vegemitch says:

        That’s what I’m getting at… Diaz may be the better player for this season only. Diaz did post a 2.7 WAR season in ’09 and projects 2.1-2.2 WAR for ’10. This is marginally better than what an average expectation for Heyward would be.

        Even if he performs at an all-star level from day one, that would be about 4.0 WAR. Given 8 weeks of Diaz then plugging in Heyward, that would be a combo of about 3.6 WAR for the season. Heyward would literally have to be a .300/.370/.540 5 WAR player in order for Atlanta to give up a single win by sending him down.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • R M says:

        Vegemitch, what you don’t seem to understand is that a team can’t lose “.4 wins”. Those “.4 wins” could very well be the difference between winning and losing a game, or even possibly 2 games depending on how they are distributed.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Josh says:

        If you have seen Jason Heyward play and don’t think he’s going to contribute more than Matt Diaz this season you’re a flat out idiot. Period. Keep looking at those projections though, I hear they really start to count as statistics if you stare at them long enough. Those things are nice to look at, but I doubt anyone in Atlanta will be surprised when Heyward wins the ROY with EASE. Just average this season? That is laughable, at best.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • deadpool says:

        I would also point out that given Diaz’s splits Heyward is obviously more likely to be capable of contributing against both lefties and righties. An outfield with a league average RFer, Nate at CF, and Diaz/Cabrera at LF is at worst an OF composed of average contributors against both lefties and righties, while an OF composed of Matt, Nate and Melky would have one below average player against either right or left handed pitchers.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Chris says:

    You take the 25 best players North, period. If you’re the Royals, Pirates or a team lower in the financial area, you send him down. The Braves are able to sign people more freely than those teams so they can afford to lose on the service side end.

    Good move here!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • philosofool says:

      The future might not matter as much as the present, but it matters, and sometimes you make a sacrifice today to win tomorrow. This is especially wise when winning today is basically impossible. For example, the Nationals would be completely wasting Strasburg’s service time if they took him North. They not contending this year, period. No amount of Stephen Strasburg is going to change that. Wasting an entire year of service in the future so that they can be a .420 team instead of a .400 team is a horrible, horrible idea.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. hamandcheese says:

    What players at 20 years old actually played at above league level? I can only think of Willie Mays.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • somedata says:

      By no means comprehensive, but here goes.

      According to baseball-reference.com with a minimum of approzimately 300 PA or 150 IP:

      Player Year OPS+/ERA+ Age
      Mathewson 1901 138 20
      Cobb 1906 131 19
      Cobb 1907 167 20
      W. Johnson 1908 139 20
      Hornsby 15 150 20
      Ruth 15 114 20 *Pitching
      Foxx 28 148 20
      Williams 39 160 20
      Mantle 51 117 19
      Mays 51 120 20
      Mantle 52 162 20
      Aaron 54 104 20
      Kaline 55 162 20
      Robinson 56 142 20
      Drysdale 57 155 20
      Torre 61 104 20
      Bench 68 117 20
      Valenzuela 81 135 20
      Gooden 84 137 19
      Saberhagen 84 116 20
      Gooden 85 229 20
      R. Alomar 88 105 20
      Griffey 89 108 20
      Renteria 96 103 19
      A-Rod 96 160 20
      Sabathia 01 102 20
      M. Cabrera 03 106 20
      Greinke 04 120 20
      J. Upton 08 106 20

      Altogether 29 seasons by 26 players. Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, and Dwight Gooden are the players I found that had two above league average seasons before turning 21. Surprisingly (to me at least), Edgar Renteria is on the list as a 19 year old. He had a more than satisfactory debut in 1996, but he followed that with five straight years of below average OPS.

      The following list of players all had a league average or better age 21 season:

      Kerry Wood, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Carlos Zambrano, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Morgan, Cal Ripken Jr., Darryl Strawberry, Benito Santiago, Gary Matthews Sr., Eddie Murray, Andruw Jones, Rod Carew, Dontrelle Willis, Hal Newhouser, Joe Medwick, Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, Denny McLain, Barry Bonds, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Felix Hernandez, Juan Gonzalez, Rickey Henderson, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Gary Sheffield, Ron Santo, and David Wright.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. captain planet says:

    Atlanta traded away a 6 to 7 win pitcher making a bargain price of $11.5 mil for an OF that probably isn’t going to start everyday now so they could sign the likes of Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner, and Takashi Saito, and then they’re too impatient to let Heywood to sit in the minors for 2-4 weeks to save a boatload of cash under the guise that they’re trying to win now? Anyone else see the contradictions in this?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • R M says:

      That is true. Odd.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dr. Strangelove says:

      The trade was surely a strange one but I’m not sure you can say the signing of Billy Wagner was that much of an ill-advised use of the money. Also, while I agree that its an impatient move financially speaking to bring Heywood up right away, they (and everyone else I’ve heard talk on the issue and myself as if that means anything) believe that there’s nothing left for him to gain development wise by spending any more time in the minors. I think on the whole the Braves are a team that can afford to look out for their best prospects long term development w/o having to worry too much about service time. I would imagine that they are going to try to lock him up to a long term deal (a la Evan) very soon.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • toastyfire says:

      Save a boatload of cash? Hardly. The only thing the Braves gain by sending him down for a couple of weeks is an extra year before he hits FA. Other then that he will still hit arbitration at the same time. And 4 year arby players make close to their FA market value anyways. The Braves are obviously confident that they can sign the kid longterm if needed so that extra year they would save is pretty meaningless.

      And I think too many people are thinking Vazquez is suddenly a top 5 pitcher in baseball. He had an amazing year. But he’s been pretty pedestrian the previous 5 seasons. Odds are he’s a lot closer to that in 2010 than a cy young candidate.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. sean says:

    “At worst, Heyward figures to be average in 2010. At best, he could be a key contributor in all fantasy leagues.”

    Boy, that’s really going out on a limb.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Hans says:

    Is Heyward going to stay a RF for his career or is there a move to CF coming? McClouth is signed through 2011 with a ’12 club option. Melky’s got a few years of arbitration before he’s gone. And then there’s Schafer.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • deadpool says:

      It’s still Schafer. Heyward is huge at 20. He’s got good range and an arm that’s almost as good as Francoeur’s (which would be wasted at CF), but the range will shrink as he gets older. Moving him to CF would be a waste, as by the time Nate is gone Heyward would be at best one or two seasons from the weight gain associated with age 22-24, so you’d be teaching him a skill set that he would be incapable of utilizing by the time he was 26, giving him two years as a capable CF. However, he should be above average at RF into his early 30s, making a shift to CF a poor choice develpmentally.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. matt w says:

    “man-child”?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • philosofool says:

      Age of a child, body and skills of a man, I take it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • matt w says:

        Yeah, but usually it means “body and age of a man, mind or maturity of a child.” Which is pretty insulting. Age 20 isn’t really age of a child anyway — I teach college students and if I called one of my students a man-child I think my bosses would have something to say to me.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • anonimus says:

        “body and age of a man, mind or maturity of a child.”

        matt, you’re thinking of every-man.

        philos was correct for man-child.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *