Is that a baseball in your pocket or are you just excited for March?
News and windows broke today that Jason Heyward is still a monster and potentially growing more monstrous as spring training wears on.
In an episode straight out of “The Natural,” the Atlanta Braves right field prospect launched two epic BP bombs into the nether regions of Champion Stadium’s parking lot on Sunday, smashing $3,400 of once-unbroken auto glass and prompting grounds workers to hang two whaling-sized nets above the right field wall.
The first shot took out the broadside of a Coke truck. The second took out the sunroof of a Braves front office henchman.
Buzz surrounding Heyward is starting to resemble the high-pitched whir that sprays off his to-all-fields liners. Word is he once leaped a high building in a single bound… only to retrieve the baseball he hit on the roof. Atlanta supposedly trains in Lake Buena Vista because risk management determined that water was the best landing spot for his property-seeking moonballs.
The lefty’s swing and effortless pop draw drooling comparisons. Manager Bobby Cox said the crack of his bat reminds him of Hammerin’ Hank and Mantle. Tim Kurkjian likened it to a gunshot. Kurkjian’s also called Heyward the Barry Bonds of his generation, and for his part, Buster Olney nearly hyperventilated on ESPN’s “Baseball Today” at the very thought of seeing this kid in person.
Braves hitting coach and former NL MVP Terry Pendleton calls him an ox. Chipper Jones calls him Fred McGriff, “except bigger.” I call him a 20-year-old with the physique of a telephone pole.
A telephone pole just blushed.
At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Heyward – again, born in Aug. 1989 – looks like a freakish cross between Ben Wallace and the Titanic. And he’s only getting bigger. A December ’08 “Top 50 Prospects” report by MLB.com had him listed at 6’4”, 220.
Brad Lidge just shat himself.
(I Know What You’re Thinking Note: Drop your performance enhancer red flags right now. Until Heyward hits legal drinking age, I’m perfectly comfortable chalking up the 20 pounds of muscle he put on this summer to a healthy growth spurt and Flintstones Vitamins. By the way, nobody gives a crap about HGH. Did you see Kurkjian’s interview with a newly re-buffed Mark McGwire last week? Less inquisitive than a House Democrat at a Charlie Rangel hearing.)
So besides a heap of superlatives and my own high praise, what’s so great about this guy?
In a word, everything.
It took a 19-year-old Heyward a scant 97 games in 2009 to make the leap from Class-A Myrtle Beach to Triple-A Gwinnett. For the sake of context, the three-league move took an 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez 83 games, and a 20-year-old Prince Albert 131.
Heyward played 24 minor league games when he was – sit down for this – 17, as in “I turned 17 my junior year of high school, how ’bout you?” 17.
And that’s about the time the accolades started rolling in for the big boy from Henry County High, GA. Baseball America, ESPN and MLB.com all ranked him baseball’s No. 1 prospect after he torched opposing farm systems last season (99 G) to the tune of 17 home runs, 117 hits, a .963 OPS and multiple Josh Gibson-worthy folktales.
MLB.com described his potential as, “All-Star-Caliber right fielder in the Dave Parker mold. He’s also drawn comparisons to Willie McCovey.”
I am happy with this assessment. McCovey has a cove named after him.
The most underrated part about Heyward is that he’s sound upstairs. The kid’s got a good head on his shoulders thanks to a tight-knit relationship with his parents, both of whom graduated from Dartmouth. The Daryl Strawberry similarities are solely talent-based.
He’s a physically imposing presence to humanity in general, let alone a porous Braves lineup that finished last season 22nd in home runs, 21st in slugging, and occasionally trotted out a 3-4-5 of Yunel Escobar, Brian McCann and the corpse of Chipper Jones.
As much as I’m thrilled that Anti-Schierholtz Frank Wren spent all of Atlanta’s money on Troy “5 Hits in ’09” Glaus and AL East castoff Eric Hinske, the decision to pass on Johnny Damon to keep a spot open in right was a prudent one (not that it atones for the Nate McLouth trade, or the Melky Cabrera deal or the Billy Wagner’s Decomposing Elbow signing… but a prudent one).
If these were the Braves of old (read: “had money”), you’d probably see Heyward start opening day. But a June 1 call up would push back his arbitration date a full year and potentially save Atlanta a heap of cash in the long run.
Olney thinks he’ll make the opening day roster. I say my Braves are like McDonald’s: cheap and predictable. They’ll wait, biding time with Cabrera and professional raker Matt Diaz, and then add the sheer jolt of pitcher-killing power they haven’t had – with due respect to Gary Sheffield – since ’98 Andres Galarraga.
Funny thing, because the Big Cat was the first guy I thought of when reading about Heyward’s Sunday aerial display – particularly the cartoonish, 529-foot blast he hit in Miami in May ’97 off then-Marlin Kevin Brown.
Could Heyward do that? Hit it halfway up the top deck of Old Joe Robbie? The ball that decimated the Coke truck only traveled 450.
But as Cox told the AP, “into the wind.”
Do me a favor and turn the sound up.