After an amazing debut in 2010 at 20 years old; a season in which we saw Jason Heyward slash his way to a .277/.393/.456 line, the sky was the limit for both Heyward and his potential fantasy owners in 2011. Unfortunately as so many sophomore players have experienced, the first year success does not always carry over the following year as the league makes adjustments, leaving fantasy owners with a dud at the end of 2011. Some of Heyward's struggles can be traced back to a lingering shoulder injury in 2011, and his batted ball profile backs that up. A four percent drop in his line drive percentage, coupled with a massive spike in his infield fly ball percentage (8.4% in 2010 - 21.8% in 2011), paints a picture of a player struggling with his swing.
Fully healthy heading into 2012, owners were skeptical which Heyward they'd get at the draft table. Heyward was selected on average 27th overall among outfield options, in the 9th round of a typical 12 team mixed league. Owners who kept their faith in the 22 year old phenom were rewarded with a top 10 outfielder in 2012. So what changed?
First, Heyward started hitting the ball with authority again as shown in a rebound of his line drive percent of 19.3%. He also stopped popping the ball up in the infield like he was in 2011, bringing that number back to his 2010 level of 8.1%. Heyward's HR/FB rate, while not horrible in 2011 (13.9%) increased in 2012 to 16.9%, which was nearly identical to his breakout 2010 rate. Also, 2012 saw Heyward continue a positive trend in elevating the ball, as his FB% has increased every year from 27.2% to 33.0% to 36.7% in 2012. A steady home run rate, an increasing fly ball rate and a player who will play most of the 2013 season at age 23, should assure every fantasy owner the power is real, and has a decent chance of outperforming his projected home run totals in 2013.
The one negative to Heyward's 2012 season was a decrease in his base on ball percentage to single digits and a rise to a semi-alarming 23.3% strike out rate. Heyward has shown a strong ability to draw a walk in the upper minors and early in his big league career, and I'd expect a rebound in that category. The strikeouts might drop some, but not too drastically, which will be an issue in terms of batting average. I currently have his 2013 projected batting average at .265, with the understanding he's currently trending up on his career path and could outperform that number slightly. A .265 BA won't sink your team, but needs to be factored in when comparing Heyward to other power/speed outfielders in his tier.
Let's get into what we expect for 2013.
Heyward was ranked 10th overall in our consensus rankings and it appears Ray, Bret, Jason & Craig all believe an improved version of 2012 is coming next year. There's a very good chance they're correct and betting on a player who will be 23 years old to continue to make strides forward is a smart place to put your money. For my personal projections I am a little less bullish on Heyward in terms of counting stats and batting average as detailed above. I'm also not sure he gets to 20+ stolen bases again next year, as I have him projected at 17 currently. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my rankings are put together for use in auction leagues and even though I have Heyward slightly below the consensus rank, I won't need to worry about someone drafting him a round or two earlier than I believe his projected stats dictate. He's the type of player fantasy owners should be ready to go the extra dollar or two on if another owner bids him up at the auction table and is an ideal second outfield option in 12 team mixed leagues.
It's clear now 2011 was merely a blip on the radar of Heyward's promising career. A repeat showing of his 2012 season with room for growth should be the mindset you have on Heyward as draft season approaches.