Jason Heyward

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Jason Alias Heyward
also known as Jason Adenolith Heyward

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Biographical Information[edit]

Outfielder Jason Heyward was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft. He made his debut with the team in 2010.

Heyward led his high school to its first state title as a junior. He impressed scouts with his excellent batting eye and Baseball America praised his "rare blend of strong tools and feel for all phases of the game." He was expected to play right field in the professional ranks.

The Braves selected Heyward with the 14th pick of the 2007 draft. He was signed by scout Brian Bridges and debuted professionally with the GCL Braves on August 16, going 1 for 3 with a solo home run. He hit .302 as a 17-year-old in 12 games for two teams in Rookie ball in his first season.

Jason then hit .316/.341/.473 between the Rome Braves and Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2008. He led all Braves farmhands in batting average. His .323 average ranked third in the South Atlantic League behind Eric Fryer and Jesus Montero. He joined Caleb Gindl and Mike Stanton on the All-Star outfield. He won the SAL Most Outstanding Prospect Award. Baseball America rated him as the league's #2 prospect, right behind Madison Bumgarner and just ahead of Stanton and Jhoulys Chacin. They also called him the best batting prospect and most exciting player in the SAL.

He had a tremendous season in 2009, starting the year with Myrtle Beach, where he hit .296 in 49 games. Promoted to the AA Mississippi Braves of the Southern League, he dominated the circuit, battering opposing pitchers for a .352 average and a .611 slugging percentage over 47 games. He ended the season with a brief taste of AAA ball, getting 4 hits in 11 at-bats with the Gwinnett Braves of the International League. Overall, his batting line was .323/.408/.555 with 25 doubles and 17 home runs in 99 games, earning him the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Award.

Heyward was the star attraction in the Braves' spring training in 2010, earning himself a spot in the team's starting line-up on opening day. With 60 friends and family members watching him at Turner Field, he started his major league career with a bang, blasting a three-run homer off Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs in his first major league plate appearance in the first inning on April 5, as the Braves cruised to an easy 16-5 win. He went 2 for 5 and drove in four runs that day. He stood among the league's RBI leaders during the early parts of the season, in spite of mostly batting 7th in the Braves' batting order. He was named the National League's Rookie of the Month for April, after driving in 19 runs with a .520 slugging percentage. His batting average stood only at .240, however, because of a late-month slump. He repeated as Rookie of the Month in May, after hitting a much more solid .337 for the month, with 19 runs scored, as many RBI, 4 home runs and 16 walks. On June 4, he tied a major league record by striking out 5 times in a 9-inning game. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 28 with a sprained thumb. At the time, he was the second-leading vote-getter among National League outfielders on the All-Star ballot, but missed a chance to play in the game because of the injury. He lost out to San Francisco's Buster Posey in the Rookie of the Year vote, but made the Topps All-Star Rookie team as an outfielder. He finished the year with a batting line of .277/.393/.456 in 142 games, with 29 doubles, 18 homers and 72 RBI. He was among the 2010 NL leaders in OBP (4th after Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder), walks (tied for 4th with Votto at 91), hit-by-pitch (10, tied for 6th with Nyjer Morgan) and errors in right field (6, tied for first with Hunter Pence).

Heyward opened the 2011 season just as he had done in his rookie year, banging out a home run off the Nationals' Livan Hernandez in a 2-0 win on Opening Day, March 31st. He was hitting only .220, but with a team-leading 7 homers, when he underwent an MRI on his right shoulder on May 12th to determine the cause of numbness down his right arm and into his hand. The MRI showed no damage - just inflammation - and he was given a cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation. However, he continued to experience pain and discomfort in his shoulder and was finally placed on the DL on May 22nd. He was batting .098 in May with 15 strikeouts and only 4 hits. He came back in mid-June, but continued to struggle at the plate, and eventually began to lose playing time when the Braves called up rookie Jose Constanza in late July and had him start some games in right field. Heyward was still hitting below .220 at that point. Getting a chance to play on August 23rd with Constanza bothered by a minor injury, Heyward hit his first career grand slam against Casey Coleman of the Chicago Cubs, a blow that proved to be the difference in the Braves' 5-4 win. He finished the season at .227/.319/.389 in 128 games, with 14 homers and 42 RBI, numbers well below those of his rookie season. His OPS+ fell from 131 in 2010 to 93 in 2011. Worse, the Braves missed the postseason on the last day of the season, after a huge collapse that allowed the eventual World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, to catch and pass them for the wild card sport after being well behind at the start of September. He tied Pence and Giancarlo Stanton for the third-most errors (6) by a right fielder in the National League that year.

Heyward had a bounce-back year in 2012, hitting .269/.335/.479 for a 116 OPS+ in 158 games and earning a Gold Glove for his defensive play in right field (it was the first year that the award for outfielders made a distinction between left-, center- and right- fielders). He added 30 doubles, 6 triples and 27 homers, stole 21 bases in 29 tries, scored 93 runs and drove in 82 as one of the Braves' offensive leaders. The Braves reached the postseason as a wild card team, but once again the Cardinals tripped them up: for the first time, there was a second wild card team - the Cardinals, who had finished well behind Atlanta - and they beat the Braves at Turner Field in the first National League Wild Card Game to eliminate the Braves. Heyward went 1 for 5 with a double in the game which the Braves lost, 6-3. For the season, he tied Aaron Hill and Ryan Zimmerman for 10th in runs, was 10th in strikeouts (152) in the National League, led right fielders in putouts (331), tied Pence for the most assists in right field (11) and led right fielders with four double plays (only Alfonso Soriano had more among all NL outfielders).

Heyward started the 2013 season very slowly, going 7 for 58 (.121) over the Braves' first 17 games, although the team was playing extremely well in spite of his minimal contribution. On April 22nd, he underwent an emergency appendectomy while the Braves were visiting Denver, CO. The operation went well and he was released from hospital 48 hours later, with the hope of being back in the line-up at the end of his mandatory 15 days on the disabled list. He later explained that he thought he was fighting a stomach virus and was trying to tough out the pain, until the Atlanta trainers convinced him to check into a hospital. There, his inflamed appendix was discovered just as it was about to burst, forcing him to undergo immediate surgery, but also avoiding what could have been much more serious complications. He returned to the line-up on May 17th, getting two hits and an RBI in an 8-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. On August 21st, he was suffered a broken jaw when hit in the face by a fastball pitched by Jonathon Niese of the New York Mets. He was hitting .253 with 13 homers and 37 RBI in 95 games, a relatively poor performance that was lost in the Braves' otherwise outstanding season. He returned to action on September 20th and finished the year at .254 with 14 homers and 38 RBIs then went 3 for 18 (.167) with a homer as the Braves lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.

Heyward was healthy again in 2014 and played 149 games. His power was disappointing, as he hit only 26 doubles and 11 homers, but he did bat .271 with 67 walks for a solid OBP of .351. He scored 74 runs and collected 58 RBIs while stealing 20 bases in 24 tries. That batting line corresponded to a fine lead-off hitter, which may not ahve been the role that had been envisaged for him when he reached the major leagues as a much-heralded prospect, but still made him quite valuable. However, the Braves had a forgettable season as they missed the postseason altogether, and they decided to make wholesale changes when the year was done. As a result, on November 17th, Heyward was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals along with P Jordan Walden in return for Ps Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins.

In his debut with the Cardinals on opening day, April 5, 2015, Jason had an excellent day, going 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles and a run scored to lead his team to a 3-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. He played 154 games for St. Louis, hitting .293 with 33 doubles, 13 homers and 60 RBIs. He won a Gold Glove in right field as the Cards racked up the best record in the major leagues that season. In the Division Series, he went 5 for 14 (.357) with a double and a homer, but in spite of his best efforts, the Cards lost to the Cubs in four games. He became a free agent after the season and on December 11th signed an eight-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, worth $184 million.

Heyward had a very slow start with the Cubs in 2016, as he was still homerless by mid-May and his slugging percentage, at .257 after 28 games, was quite embarrassing. However, his struggles were under the radar as the Cubs were off to a great start. He finally hit his first homer as a Cub on May 17th, when he connected off Chase Anderson of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 9th inning of a 4-2 loss. On May 20th, he crashed into the right field wall at AT&T Park in the 1st inning and was forced to leave the game because of an apparent abdominal injury. However, he was back in the starting line-up after missing only a couple of games. He never managed to right things at the plate, finishing at .230 in 142 games, with 7 homers and 49 RBIs. His slugging percentage was a measly .325 and his OPS+ of 70 was fourth-worst in the majors, behind three middle infielders. His excellent defensive play compensated to some extent, but there was no hiding the fact his contribution with the bat was minimal. In the postseason, it was even worst, as he hit .104 with 1 RBI as the Cubs claimed their first World Series title in 108 years. He contributed through his leadership, however, as he made a rousing speech in the clubhouse during the 17-minute rain delay after the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, after which the Cubs went out and scored twice against the Cleveland Indians to claim the long-elusive title.

It was clear that Heyward needed to completely re-think his approach at the plate heading into 2017, and he worked hard to rebuild his swing from the ground up, but the results in spring training were not particularly encouraging, as he hit well below the Mendoza Line. The Cubs were still committed to his being a starter in the outfield, but the question was how long that would hold if his production did not pick up. He played 126 games, hitting .259 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs improving his OPS+ from a dreadful 68 to a poor 84. He again struggled in the postseason, going 2 for 12 against the Washington Nationals in the Division Series, and 0 for 5 as he was mostly benched during the Cubs' loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. He was still a starter in 2018 and on June 6th had a rare highlight with the bat as he hit a walk-off grand slam off Adam Morgan of the Philadelphia Phillies with two outs in the 9th inning, giving the Cubs a 7-5 win. He hit .327 in June with 16 RBIs, finally giving the Cubs a hint of being again the player he once was. He finished that season at .270 with 8 homers and 57 RBIs in 127 games, then went 0 for 3 9 in the Wild Card Game which the Cubs lost at home to the Colorado Rockies.

In 2019, Heyward did manage to raise his OPS+ back to 100 for the first time since 2015 as he hit .251 in 147, but found his power stroke again with 21 homers - his second-highest career total, 78 runs scored and 62 RBIs. The Cubs missed the postseason that year but in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, managed to win a division title while Heyard had his best season in a Cubs uniform. He played in 50 of the team's 60 games that year and hist .265 with 6 homers and 22 RBIs, scoring 20 runs and driving in 22. None of these numbers were eye-popping, but his OPS+ of 129 was excellent, and in fact the highest of his career save for his excellent rookie campaign. However, it all came crashing down in the postseason as the Cubs were swept in two games by the underdog Miami Marlins in the Wild Card Series. Jason was actually one his tesm's best hitters, going 2 for 7 with a double, as no one really managed to solve the Marlins' pitching during the two games.

2021 was a turning point for the Cubs as they played well during the first two months and appeared to be again in the running to win the division title, then brutally collapsed, to the point that management went through a fire sale at the trading deadline, sending away three pillars of the 2016 Championship team - Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez - in addition to various other veterans, receiving only prospects in return. Heyward was one of the few veterans to stick around, but that was because his huge contract made him untradeable. He fell back into the doldrums that year, batting .214 in 104 games, with 8 homers and 30 RBIs, for an OPS+ of just 68. The fall continued in 2022 as his playing time was also cut back significantly with the Cubs auditioning various young players as part of their aggressive rebuild. On August 8th, the team announced that Heyward would not be back the following season, adding that they greatly appreciated his leadership over the years and his work on mentoring young players, but that they would buy back the final two years of his contract at the end of the season. He was hitting .204 with just 1 homer and 10 RBIs in 48 games at the time and had been placed on the injured list with inflammation in his right knee at the end of June; it was unlikely that he would be back before the end of the season, so the announcement marked the end of an era.

Just about everyone thought that Heyward would retire following the expiration of his contract with the Cubs, but on December 8, 2022, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him to a minor league contract accompanied by an invitation to spring training in 2023. Also that winter, he inaugurated a community center in the Austin neighborhood in Chicago's impoverished west side, to provide education, wellness and sports opportunities for the neighborhood's youth and their families. It also includes the "Jason Heyward Baseball Academy" and was built on an abandoned lot that once housed a paint factory. He and his wife Vedrana helped line up a group of donors to help rehabilitate the site.

Jason's brother Jacob Heyward was a starting outfielder at the University of Miami who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 18th round of the 2016 amateur draft.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jordan Bastian: "'Emotional leader' Heyward, Cubs to part ways", mlb.com, August 8, 2022. [1]
  • Jordan Bastian: "Cubs release Jason Heyward: 'A great human being, a great player'", mlb.com November 14, 2022. [2]
  • Jordan Bastian: "Jason Heyward Baseball Academy opens in Chicago: Former Cubs star cuts ribbon on 150,000-square-foot community center", mlb.com, February 3, 2023. [3]
  • Paul Casella: "5 reasons Heyward is head of his class", mlb.com, December 1, 2015. [4]
  • Jack Harris (Los Angeles Times): "'He's such a glue.' Jason Heyward leaves impact on Dodgers with platoon-role production", Yahoo! Sports, September 26, 2023. [5]
  • Will Leitch: "Can Heyward bounce back from subpar seasons? Cubs RF hoping to live up to promise shown as rookie with Braves in 2010", mlb.com, March 19, 2018. [6]
  • Bob Nightengale (USA Today): "Former All-Star OF Jason Heyward has 'a new lease on life' with Dodgers", Yahoo! News, May 7, 2023. [7]
  • Jose L. Ortiz: "Don't call it a comeback: Cubs' Jason Heyward on rise, not yet where he wants to be", USA Today Sports, August 10, 2017. [8]
  • Joe Posnanski: "Heyward's intangibles balance out struggles", mlb.com, March 27, 2017. [9]
  • Juan Toribio: "Dodgers ink Jason Heyward to Minor League deal", mlb.com, December 8, 2022. [10]
  • Juan Toribio: "Heyward's new swing the early talk of camp", mlb.com, February 20, 2023. [11]
  • Matt Winkeljohn: "In Atlanta, Jason Heyward is the new face of the future", Sports Illustrated, September 16, 2009. [12]

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