Back in 2010, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward was the Mike Trout of MLB. They are certainly different type of players, but Heyward had the impact in 2010 that Trout is making this season. Heyward made the 25 man roster out of spring training at the age of 20 and put up a solid stat line for an established major leaguer, let alone a 20 year old with just over 1,000 at bats in the minors. That season, he hit .277-.393-.456 with 18 HRs, 83 runs, 72 RBI and 11 stolen bases, while showing the plate discipline of a hitter several years older. In 520 at bats, he struck out 128 times, or about 21% of his at bats, while walking 91 times, or almost 15% of his at bats.
Last season, he struggled with a shoulder injury, and got heat from none other than Chipper Jones to suck it up and get back on the field. He got back on the field, but the results were below expectations, as he hit .227-.319-.389 with 14 HRs, 50 runs, 42 RBI and 9 stolen bases. His walk rate dropped a bit, but the strikeout rate stayed steady at just around 21%. His BABIP dropped from .335 to .260, causing the drop in his triple slash line as a result. There was talk last offseason that he had holes in his swing, and he worked on correcting that, and getting healthy, in the offseason.
Coming into the 2012 season, I ranked him as my 23rd ranked fantasy outfielder, so I had some confidence that he would bounce back. Though his walk rate is down below 9% thus far, he is hitting for more power, as his ISO sits at .224. He is having a solid bounce back season this year, hitting .272-.340-.497 with 14 HRs, 45 runs, 41 RBI and 11 stolen bases.
His batted ball data, via FanGraphs, shows that he is hitting more line drives this season than ever (21.3%), and has reduced his extremely high ground ball rate in a big way. His ground ball rate has dropped from 53.9% to 37.1% this season, so it appears the shoulder and swing issues are a thing of the past. His 41.6% fly ball rate is the highest of his career, and up from 33.0% from 2011. The bump in fly ball rate is a good sign, as more of those fly balls are ending up in the outfield seats this season, as his 15.2% HR/FB rate indicates.
Something to watch for in the second half is his deteriorating plate discipline, as FanGraphs defines it. He is swinging at more pitches outside the zone than ever-31.9% vs 28.8%, and is making less contact as a result. His zone contact rate has dropped from 85.3% in 2011 to just 80.8% this season, and his overall contact rate is down about 2% as well. His swinging strike rate is going in the wrong direction as well, as he is whiffing at 11.5% of his swings vs 9.9% last season.
Heyward is on pace for 27 home runs, 78 RBI, 86 runs and 21 stolen bases this season, and should he reach that level of performance, he will easily be a top 10 fantasy outfielder in 2013, with a chance for top 6 or 7. He is one of just 7 outfielders who are currently on pace to put up a 20-20 season in 2012, and with a bit of a power surge in the second half, he could approach 30 home runs. Not bad for a 22 year old.