In a parallel universe, Jason Heyward just finished his first full professional season. After leaving UCLA to enter the 2011 draft -- where he was the first overall pick -- he tore up High-A and Double-A over the last month of the season. After a torrid spring, he broke camp with the big club, hitting .269/.335/.479 with 27 homers.
This is not that universe. In this one, Heyward is a good player. Maybe, considering his defense and baserunning, close to a great player. But he's not threatening for a Triple Crown, and he's not a perennial MVP candidate, which a lot of people assumed he would be soon after his amazing rookie season. The only way to consider Heyward a disappointment is if you're a) impatient or b) you ignore that he just turned 23.
That doesn't mean you can't look at some of his numbers and wonder where the 2010 Heyward went:
Maybe he hasn't made the counter-adjustment to the adjustment the pitchers have made. Maybe his lingering shoulder issues messed with his young mechanics.
Maybe he's still a young player figuring things out.
Regardless of the reason for his declining patience and contact, he's still good. At 23, he's a viable middle-of-the-order hitter. But he's not the celestial event he was supposed to be. Yet.
The funny thing is, the Braves have another one of these. Freddie Freeman hit .282/.346/.448 in his age-21 season. That was good for a 117 OPS+, and that's pretty rare for a first baseman who was 21 or younger. You can count the number of seasons in which it had previously happened on your fingers. If you're Antonio Alfonseca, at least. The point stands: Freeman was in fine company, with a couple of Hall of Famers and some Hall of Gooders mixed in. He was supposed to get better and better, starting with this season.
Last year's OPS: .795. This year's OPS: .796. If this trend keeps up, he could be looking at an MVP nod in 2189.
Freeman's been the No. 5 hitter for most of the year, and he's been fine. Not great. Not necessarily too far above the average for a first baseman in the National League (.778 OPS), but a competent hitter who helps his team score runs a little better than the typical first baseman, and far better than the typical 23-year-old hitter.
So both Heyward and Freeman:
- Are pretty good
- Should get better
- Should get a lot better
- Any day now
- Braves fans would be okay with right now, if possible
It's a weird dynamic. They're both disappointingly far ahead of where most players their age are. I don't have the database-tickling acumen to support this theory, but I've long suspected that left-handed-hitting high-school draftees who make an early debut will often struggle against left-handed pitching for a bit. They just haven't seen that much left-handed pitching in their baseball travails -- they're too young, and there's a disproportionate amount of lefties in the majors compared to what they faced as amateurs. Freeman has hit .245/.313/.405 against lefties in his career; Heyward has hit .226/.305/.360.
They'll learn. They'll get better. And soon, they'll be a dynamic three-four presence in the Braves' lineup for the better part of a decade.
Braves fans would probably trade another year of this kind of production for a hot four weeks from both of them. One of these days, though, a playoff preview of the Braves won't start with Kris Medlen or Craig Kimbrel. Heyward and Freeman are the bright future of the Braves, but it's sometimes hard to remember they're the present, too. And it's a pretty good present.