Even with the departure of Brian McCann, the Atlanta Braves look like they will have a solid offense in 2014. Evan Gattis will step in at catcher and plug into the middle of a lineup that already boasts Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, and Jason Heyward.
Speaking of Heyward, Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes today that the Braves are ready to proceed with the fifth-year outfielder in the top spot in the lineup:
I think it’s safe to say they found the right guy when they moved Heyward into that role last year. His move to the top of the lineup was the key catalyst during the club’s 14-game winning streak. Injuries limited his stolen-base opportunities last year. But he swiped 21 bags the year before and owns a .352 career on-base percentage. Those credentials will suffice.
First of all, let that sink in for a second. This will be Jason Heyward’s fifth year in Major League Baseball. Holy buckets, as the kind people of Minnesota would say (though Heyward is still only 24 years old).
In 30 games started as the lead-off hitter, Heyward did indeed put up sparkling numbers: .322/.403/.551 with six home runs and 16 RBI. He actually stole zero bases in those games, but that aspect is far less important when his job is to get on base for thumpers like Upton, Freeman, and Gattis.
If the Braves go with Heyward in that spot and Upton second (as Bowman suggests), it will maximize the number of at-bats for two of the team’s best hitters. That’s a smart plan for a team that promises to be in the mix for a playoff spot once again next season.