If you haven't heard the name Jason Heyward yet, you're clearly not reading or watching any coverage of 2010 Spring Training.
Heyward has been the offensive story of Spring Training so far (with all due respect to Milton Bradley, he's not the offensive we're talking about here). Heyward is the unanimously named number one prospect in baseball, even ahead of Washington's Stephen Strasburg. He doesn't turn 21 until early August, but he might be an impact fantasy player you should seriously consider this year.
The only problem with considering Heyward is when to select a rookie phenom.
First, let's talk about what Heyward brings to the table for the Atlanta Braves.
MLB.com says, "He's got great bat speed, with the ability to hit for average and power. He has an excellent knowledge of the strike zone. He's got a plus arm from the outfield, runs well and is an excellent base-runner."
ESPN's Keith Law says, "Heyward will be a middle-of-the-order bat with power and patience while playing above-average defense in right with a plus arm. He has an advanced approach at the plate... strong, quick wrists that let him commit later to pitches while still driving the ball to all fields. He gets good leverage in his swing and has plenty of loft to eventually produce 30-plus homers a year, and so far hasn't shown any tendency to expand the zone because he's trying too hard to hit for power."
Baseball America says, " Jason Heyward, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, will give the lineup a major jolt when he arrives in 2010." BA also put Heyward on the cover of their 2010 Top 100 Prospect issue.
The guy can hit. Last year in Double-A, and again we must emphasize that he was only 19 until August, Heyward put up exceptional numbers in only 362 at bats. He hit 16 home runs, drove in 63 and stole 10 bases in 99 games. Another great plus, which Law mentions, is his eye; he walked as many times (51) as he struck out last year. His .402 OBP is exceptional, but his .963 OPS is what jumps off the page.
Right now, it appears Heyward has the inside track on the starting spot in right field to begin Bobby Cox's final season in Atlanta, and his left-handed bat could find a comfortable spot somewhere around Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus in the middle of the Braves' batting order. If he can replicate the 450-foot home run he hit early in Spring Training in Atlanta, and continues to draw comparisons to a young Ken Griffey, Jr, he'll be a name you see as much on SportsCenter as anyone in the game. This puts Jason Heyward up there with our top fantasy baseball sleepers.
Now that devil's advocate argument: how much stock can you put in a kid?
Setting expectations for Heyward to become the .300-35-100 guy analysts say he will eventually be would be naive. Every rookie has hot and cold stretches, and the biggest adjustment that young hitters need to make comes after there's an established major league scouting report on him; pitchers will adjust to him, and then he'll need to show what he's worth.
The Braves should have a pretty decent batting order this year, with Jones and Glaus headlining a group that includes Nate McLouth, Brian McCann, Melky Cabrera and Yunel Escobar. Don't buy into what you see in Spring Training too much, but if you're looking for a fourth outfielder late, Heyward is a worthy gamble. He has the greatest upside of any rookie coming out of Spring Training this year, and his position in a veteran lineup should help him grow into a major league powerhouse.