The Sophomore Slump

Prior to the 2010 season he was ranked as the #1 prospect in all of baseball. He stood 6’5 and weighed in at 240lbs. He was not only the face of the franchise but many people described him as one of the future stars in the entire league. He bounced around a lot as a youth, playing for 6 teams in just 3 minor league seasons. Taken 14th overall in the 2007 major league baseball draft the organization had high hopes for this talented 18 year old. He’s still just 22 years of age and most consider him to still possess a ton of talent.

In case you haven’t guessed it. I’m talking about Jason Heyward, last years rookie of the year runner up. A player who at the age of 21 hit a home run in his first major league at bat. A guy who hit 18 home runs, drove in 72rbi, hit for an average of .277 and had an OBP of .393. No matter how you slice it those are outstanding numbers for a 21 year old rookie. The sky was the limit for Jason as most expected him to take over the 3 hole spot in the line up when our future hall of famer Chipper Jones decided to call it quits.

Now so many things have changed. Instead of improving on his rookie campaign and making his mark on the league Jason finds himself in a whole new world, playing a whole new ball game. Instead of trying to increase his batting average from last year or add a few more home runs to his already impressive 18 long ball season in 2010, Jason is just trying to get himself on the field. Injuries plagued him earlier in the year but I’m not sure how long that can be used as an excuse. Jason has been healthy for a while now and has seen journey man Jose Constanza take his place in the line up more often then not. Instead of noticing when he’s not in the line up as in him having a day off, Braves fans now take notice as to when he IS in the line up. That’s never a good sign as you expect your best players to play everyday.

Heyward is a heck of an athlete, no one can deny that. His massive frame and overall strength make him a threat every time he steps to the plate. On any given pitch Jason Heyward has the ability to smash a double into the gap or even force a few balls over the center field fence. But why isn’t he? That’s the question that is puzzling so many fans and coaches right now.

Have the opposing pitchers figured him out? Look at guys like Gordon Beckham and Chris Coghlan. They are experiencing a similar thing after their rookie campaigns. The starting pitchers they were facing found flaws in their swing and those two guys are prime examples of players who have failed to make the proper adjustments. Is this the case with Heyward? Possibly. He’s striking out more then last year, mostly due to the fact that he continues to chase balls out of the zone. This however is very common for any slumping player as they are just pressing too hard when they step into the batters box. Maybe Jason is still being plagued by that shoulder injury? Maybe it wasn’t 100% when he came back. After being called out by Chipper Jones for the unwillingness to play hurt, did he come back before he was ready?

When comparing his 2011 stats to the ones from 2010 we need to be careful. We need to take into consideration that we have no idea what Jason Heyward will do for the last month or so of the season. There is not one person out there who could tell me that Jason Heyward couldn’t get hot and hit .330 for the whole month of Sept and drive in 25 runs with 10 home runs. That’s not impossible. So we need to take these comparisons with a grain of salt. There’s still more baseball to be played and baseball is like anything else in life, we can’t predict it with 100% certainty.

2011: .218, 12 home runs, 31rbi and a .310 obp

2010: .277, 18 home runs, 72rbi and .393 obp

With a month left in the season I would not say the power numbers have completely tanked. If Heyward could get hot over the next month and hit just 4 or 5 more long balls the rest of the way then power is not even in the discussion. A drop off a 1 or 2 home runs is not going to get the critics talking. On base percentage and batting average are more of a concern for me. Those are the numbers that show he’s just not getting on base. When you can’t get hits or walks you can’t score runs for your team. When your batting average is so low it’s almost impossible to drive in a ton of runs for your team. He needs to be a little more patient at the plate and not fall behind in the count so quickly.

Through all of this Jason Heyward has shown me one thing, his attitude is outstanding. He has never complained about being on the bench. He doesn’t sit there pouting or crying because Fredi won’t start him. He hasn’t made a public spectacle out of himself because of his slump by blaming the coaches or making any excuses for his poor performance. That’s something that cant be taught, that’s great character. We need to see value in that. The fact that he’s willing to work extra hours with the hitting coach on days he’s not in the line up and even approach Chipper for some hitting tips shows a great sign of maturity. He is certainly taking the appropriate steps to turn this thing around.

I can honestly admit that my optimal scenario has occurred and I can’t complain about what Fredi is doing or I’d be a hypocrite to my own articles. The point I had made over a month ago was that Jason Heyward needed competition, he needed a threat on the team that could take away some of his playing time. Jose Constanza has done just that. For how long? No one really knows if Constanza is a flash in the pan or if he’ll be with the Braves for the next 5 or 6 seasons. All I know is that RIGHT NOW he is a force on this team and he is major competition for Heyward. If nothing else comes from having Constanza on this team then I hope one thing happens. That he’s the reason Heyward is forced to come out of that slump, that a lone would make Constanza a huge part of Braves history.

When you come to the ball park knowing that your going to be in the line up no matter what, I think you lack a sense of urgency. I think you get too relaxed and that you might fail to make the proper adjustments. However when a journey man player from the minor leagues comes up and basically takes your job, then you have a problem. Your going to have to prove yourself worthy by performing at a high level. Up until this point Heyward was living on an image that he had previously created for himself. How long can you live on an image or on past accomplishments? Apparently not too long if your Jason Heyward.

Should Braves fans be worried about Heyward? In my opinion I would say no. Don’t panic Braves fans because things are too good right now to start worrying. Heyward has been struggling almost this entire season and this team is 24 games over .500 and running away with the Wild Card race. When the team is playing so well I find it extremely difficult to worry about 1 individual player. Right now any contribution Heyward can make is a bonus, it’s all icing on the cake right now.

Would I prefer that Heyward heat up right before the playoffs? Absolutely. The more hot bats you have in your line up the better. If he doesn’t then we do have Constanza to fall back on. That’s just the benefits of having depth on your team.

In all fairness to Jason Heyward I say we give him a little more time to prove himself. He has shown that he can tear the cover off the ball, he did it just last season. Were not waiting on some guy who’s never proven he can play the game at a high level. Were waiting on a guy to regain that ability that he once had. The talent is still there guys, it’s just being covered up by some bad mechanics, a bruised ego and a troublesome shoulder. If Jason Heyward can earn all of that praise for 1 good season, then in fairness we can’t doom him because of 1 bad season. To me the score would be 1-1 on Jason Heyward. One good season and one bad season. Let’s put him out there and get a little more sample of what he’s capable of and then decide. The only way he can get out of this slump is by getting some at bats. So for this reason I think Fredi needs to play him a couple of times a week.

By: Bob McVinua

 

 

 

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5 comments

  1. sbostwick49

    Heyward is a legit talent. Guys like this don’t come around too often. The sophomore slump has been applied to second year athletes for a reason. It seems we see a hot rookie come down to Earth in his second season and it is usually for what you’ve pointed out. Pitchers at the Major League level are too good to not pick up on tendencies of hitters and exploit them. That coupled with some nagging injuries? I think you nailed what’s wrong with the future of your franchise.

    If his production is a question of motivation there is one more thing the Braves can try if having Heyward “ride the pines” hasn’t worked. Option him to AAA for a spell. The time to do that has passed, this season, but this may be a good option in the future when the timing is better. I doubt the thought of playing in the minor leagues has crossed his mind and might be a good wake up call.

    As I said, you can’t do that with under 40 games to play, a wild card spot to hang on to and maybe even the division to win. Like you said, it is in the realm of reality that the kid could catch fire at any time.

  2. tomahawk87

    I absolutely agree. You made a lot of great points. The fact that Heyward is so young also works to his advantage. If he got sent down to AAA next year he would still only be 23 years old (in Aug). So it’s not like he’s 30 years old getting humiliated because he got sent down. The majority of the players in AAA are Heyward’s age anyways. Thanks for reading and again you made excellent points.

  3. Mike Collins (@Maestro_Mike)

    Jason needs to go back to the drawing board in to revamp his swing completely. I dont know if we can afford to let him to do that THIS season because we need the THREAT of his power in the lineup-come playoff time. Im not completely willing to to trade swap him for Constanza(Jasons ceiling is higher), but at this point in the season, we have to play whoever is producing. Come playoff time, weaknesses in Heyward’s swing will be amplified and im wondering if he’ll even make the roster at this point. Love the article, but this issue I think we be in the second tier of the ‘to do’ list of Wrens when the season ends.

  4. tomahawk87

    I love the comments so far. Mike you make perfect sense and I have to say I agree with you. I wish I had made that point in my article actually. The risk of putting a struggling Heyward into the line up come playoff time is extremely high. And your absolutely right about his weaknesses being amplified. When your playing the same team in a 5 or 7 game series that’s a ton of exposure. They will figure you out real quick. Heyward could be a liability if he’s still struggling come October. You have to play the better man that’s for sure. Thanks for your comment.

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