Jason Heyward was supposed to be the next all-time great. He even derived his nickname from the legendary Willie Mays, or the "Say Hey Kid." And "J-Hey" seemed to justify the hype in his inaugural season. In 2010 he finished with a .277 batting average, a .393 on-base percentage, 18 home runs, and 11 stolen bases. He was second in Rookie of the Year voting to San Francisco's Buster Posey, which is no insult to anyone. The foundation was seemingly laid for a storied career. Tomahawk Nation was rejoicing. Then, 2011 happened.
It was a lost season for Heyward, as he slashed a pedestrian .227/.319/.389 (.708 OPS) with 14 HR, 50 R, 42 RBI, and 9 SB. Of course, he only appeared in 128 games as he battled a shoulder injury that he sustained in Spring Training. That injury, coupled with normal Major League growing pains, was enough to make the budding superstar a major flop in his sophomore season.
Fantasy owners that took a gamble on Heyward in 2012 were rewarded with a .269/.335/.479 (.814 OPS) slash line. Heyward socked 27 HR, scored 93 R, drove in 82 RBI, and stole 21 bases. It was a Top 10 outfielder campaign, the likes of which we have yet to see from Heyward again. Perhaps more importantly, it was a healthy campaign, as Heyward played in a career-high 158 games.
But in 2013 the injury imp struck again, as J-Hey played only 104 games due to a litany of maladies. Right shoulder soreness (again), an appendectomy, a hamstring strain, and a fractured jaw were the primary culprits. It was a nightmarish season, but even when Heyward was healthy he was a shell of his 2012 self. Only a move to the leadoff role late in the season seemed to break him out of his funk; but alas, a 90 mph heater from Jon Niese ended that comeback story.
In 2014, many experts pegged the inconsistent Heyward as a bargain buy. I bought into this tomfoolery, expecting a healthy Heyward to return to 2012 totals. Instead, he produced a boring .271/.351/.384 (.735 OPS) line, and swatted just 11 homers. He did rebound in the speed department with 20 steals, but he still ranked as only the 38th best outfielder in the game, good for 126th overall. That's not exactly the output I had in mind when I paid $25 for him in my hometown auction. Steep price for an OF4, in my opinion.
So now what? What can we expect from this talented but inconsistent young player? Will he run? Will he hit for power? Will he morph back into an OBP machine?
The most honest answer to this question is: who knows? Truth is, Heyward could likely accomplish any of the above feats, with the possible exception of drastically increasing his OBP. Since his high-water mark of .393 in his rookie season, he's since posted lines of .319, .335, .349, and .351, respectively. At this point in his career, the signs point to an OBP in the .350 range, which is above average but not elite. Unfortunately, this might be the stat Heyward excels at the most (other than stellar defense, of course).
Heyward has displayed an ability to hit for slightly above the league average in the power department. His career slugging percentage of .429 is a few points higher than the .386 mark that was the average for all of Major League Baseball in 2014. Heyward's highest mark was in 2012, when he finished at .479 for the season. That's not too far off from a guy like Carlos Gomez, who sports a career .420 slugging percentage but who has been at .506 and .477 these last two seasons.
The one major difference between Gomez's elite fantasy production and Heyward's average production is speed. Heyward attempted only 17 steals combined in his injury-riddled 2011 and 2013 seasons, succeeding on 11 of those attempts. In 2010 alone he had 17 attempts, also stealing 11 bags. In his healthier seasons of 2012 and 2014, Heyward's attempts were up to 29 and 24, and he was successful on 21 and 20 of those. Heyward's career success rate is at 72 percent, but in 2014 he was up to 80 percent, as he was caught a grand total of four times. That could bode well for the future, especially if the Braves no longer need Heyward to serve in a leadoff capacity. He'll need to be efficient when he runs, because he doesn't run a ton now anyway and Jose Peraza could be swiping loads of bags by mid-2015. He'll need Heyward to knock him in, not draw a walk and steal a bag. But that's a thought for another day.
In summation, we have a 25 year old who already has two very useful fantasy seasons under his belt. Unfortunately, he also has two maddeningly depressing seasons as well, though one could explain those away by citing all the injuries. Then there's the conundrum of 2014, where Heyward stayed relatively healthy (despite a late season thumb injury) but didn't deliver in the power department. As a result of all this, looking ahead to 2015 is a dicey proposition. Some respected folks in the industry are still dubbing Heyward as an OF2, which is expectant of a better year than the one we recently witnessed. Remember he was OF38 in 2014, nowhere near an OF2 price.
I am skeptical. I love the Braves, and I have plenty of respect for Heyward as an individual. But one season after being burned on him, I'm afraid someone else will love him more than I will in 2015. I'm fully aware of the potential, but I'm probably going to let someone else chase it at the draft table. For giggles, I'll finish up with this pearl of wisdom from the always witty Brian Billick:
"Son, your potential is gonna get me fired."