After what many considered a “lost” season in 2013, Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward inked a 2-year, arbitration buyout contract extension in the off-season, and now, there are indications from the team’s manager that he will be hitting in a comfortable position when the 2014 campaign opens.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution unearthed this quote from Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez concerning Heyward’s prospects for hitting in the lead-off spot:
“If you had to start the season tomorrow, I think you would run him out there. Everybody talks about the lineups, and the lineup is something that’s not in concrete. You can start with one lineup and finish with a different one.”
If you are a fan (or fantasy baseball owner) of Heyward’s, this is huge news. The 24-year-old right fielder missed extensive time and “struggled” to a .254/.349/.427 slash line over 440 plate appearances in 2013, but in the lead-off spot, his numbers were strikingly different. In fact, Heyward achieved a .403 on-base percentage with six home runs in 118 at-bats, and with a unique blend of speed and power for a lineup that needs both, he should be in position to succeed.
Because Heyward takes walks with effectiveness, he fits the mold of the “new age” lead-off hitter, despite his massive size and power potential. He is likely the best option for the Braves in that spot, but for anyone invested in his long-term success, this is a cross-your-fingers moment in hoping that he can remain there.