Jason Heyward has already received tons of ink from ESPN, SI and the like in a very short big leagues career, but so far it's been backed up with production. His line - .295 avg, 9 HRs, 9 2Bs, 35 RBIs, 29 BBs - as of May 28, one-fourth of the way through his first season, has already proven that he brings the big bat in an Atlanta Braves' lineup that features aging star Chipper Jones and All-Star catcher Brian McCann. After losing nine of their final 10 games in April to dig themselves into a hole in the NL East, the most competitive division in the MLB with all five teams separated by less than five games (including the Washington Nationals!), Heyward has been a big part of an 8-2 stretch that now has the Braves only 1.5 games behind the leading Philadelphia Phillies.
In manager Bobby Cox's last season, it seems oddly fitting that it's some new blood that is pushing this team to success. Over a decade ago it was a young Andruw Jones who helped the Braves to their lone World Series title during Cox's tenure and now it's the guy they call J-Hey Kid bringing out Willie McCovey references from even the most-knowledgeable baseball writers. What is so impressive about Heyward though, is how much he seems to have embraced the high (and early) praise he's been given not simply with the smile that people say shows his love for the sport, but with his desire to be the MVP of the National League's most consistent team for the last two decades.
A homerun in his first career at-bat showed his promise, but the eight game losing streak the Braves ended April on was matched only by Heyward's 3-for-24 stint that brought his batting average down to .224 at one point that included only one homer against eight strikeouts. Andruw Jones is no longer a Brave, but the memories of his turn from MVP-caliber to strikeout-king are still fresh in Atlanta's minds.
After last night's win over the Pirates, Heyward's May numbers look like this:
.338 avg., 3 HR, 6 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 16 RBIs, 15 BBs and 8 SOs. While his home runs have declined as pitchers smarten to Heyward's knack for turning fastballs over with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, his average indicates more patience at the plate resulting in more extra-base hits and fewer strikeouts.
As the Braves, my favorite team for more than 15 years, hope to ride the J-Hey Kid to the top of the division by the All-Star game - where Heyward is sure to be if he keeps this up through June - I can only hope that his production on the field translates to the production of more black prospects in the years to come.
Regardless, I'll continue to respect a 20-year-old who hasn't shied away from the expectations (and pressure) one bit in his first season in the big leagues under mighty big spotlights.
Link: Check out Jason Heyward hitting a home run in his first career at-bat: http://www.youtube.com/wat