Jason Heyward is finally starting to look like the franchise player that Braves fans were hoping for when his career began three years ago. The questions on whether Heyward would truly pan out have been difficult to avoid considering his inconsistency. He went from one of the game’s most promising rookies in 2010 to an injury riddled 2011, and a resurgence in 2012.
This season, Heyward was joined in the outfield by the Upton brothers to form what has been commonly referred to at TSL as the “Soul Patrol.” The Uptons and Heyward were supposed to bring back the famous all-black outfield of the '90s glory days, until they came out whiffing to start the season.
We’re talking about B.J. Upton and Heyward in particular. The expectation was for Heyward to pick up where he left off last season, but he was quiet for the most part.
Then on July 27th, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made a move that didn’t really seem necessary at the time but proved to be important for Heyward, notching him up from the two-hole batting slot to leadoff.
Heyward’s been popping his collar ever since.
Until he came off the bench on Sunday against the Nationals, Heyward had put in six straight multi-hit games to set the tone for Atlanta at the plate.
When discussing the great young players in the game, Heyward used to be one of the first names that would come up. You’d hear about Buster Posey (who edged Heyward for Rookie of the Year), Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Manny Machado and this year, Yasiel Puig set the baseball world on fire. Heyward went from being in that conversation to just being a guy.
These days there are questions of how much Heyward’s going to command when it’s time to talk about a contract extension. Three years ago, he was considered a franchise player at age 20. Now he’s in the awkward stage that won’t allow him to put his inconsistency behind them.
But with the Braves dusting the rest of the National League by 16 games or more going into Tuesday’s series opener against the Mets, and Heyward as the new customary leadoff guy, the centerfielder’s skill set is back on center stage.
For a big dude (6’5, 240 pounds), Heyward doesn’t exactly look like the fastest baserunner that one would expect the leadoff hitter to be, but looks couldn’t be less indicative in this case.
Heyward is stealing far fewer bases then when he first hit the scene, but his 37 percent run scoring clip is a career high.
The pressure that comes with being a black outfielder for the Braves – especially when the potential was clear from the onset – is not an enviable burden. But it’s a burden Heyward can shoulder.