Last night’s game at Dodger Stadium was EVERYTHING you could have wanted in a baseball game. It was an early instant classic of the regular season. And I had the pleasure of watching the entire thing for the most part.
The Dodgers looked in control of this one, and should have won the game. National League MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Corey Seager squared off. With the Dodgers up 4-2 in the 8th inning after an Adrian Gonzalez home run, the Cubs needed life. Bryant crushed his 34th home run of the season to cut the deficit to 4-3, and this put his average over .300 on the season.
Things weren’t done from there.
Kenley Jansen entered in the ninth, and if you watch baseball at any regularity you figured this game was ending 4-3. But Jason Heyward made himself somehow-useful. He doubled off Jansen to begin the ninth and would score the tying-run with one out on a wild pitch.
Bonus baseball was awarded with Vin Scully on the call. And I might have to change my MVP vote from Seager to Bryant on a count of what happened next.
Bryant comes back up against a southpaw – Dave Roberts has no clue how to manage a bullpen, God love him – and Bryant hits a predictable two-run shot that ices the game for the Cubs. It was his 35th home run of the season and he’s at .303 on the year.
The Cubbies absolutely stole this one with their best player headlining it. We’re all better off having seen this one, if you saw it.
Let me preface this post by saying I have zero doubts you’re about to see the best Jason Heyward you’ve ever seen in 2015. No one; and I mean no one out there has the ability to polish a turd up nicely and have it work out like the damn St. Louis Cardinals. They’re going to find a way to fix this guy and turn him into a really good all around player. He may come close to reaching the lofty expectations scouts once set (and his first half of his rookie season was phenomenal).
When describing how stymied he felt at times batting leadoff for the Atlanta Braves, Gold Glove-winning outfielder Jason Heyward borrowed an analogy from the field. It’s playing long toss and really wanting to cut loose with a full-strength throw but having to hit a target 90 feet away.
“You feel like there’s a governor on you and you’re not letting it ride,” Heyward said. “You have to think of other ways.”
Greg Walker was one of the shittiest hitting coaches in big league history. If you’ve followed the Braves even on a surface level the past few seasons, you know he had his hand in fucking up a number of big league hitters and doing more harm than good to their approach.
Fredi Gonzalez also jerked Heyward around from day one – platooning him with replacement level players and hitting him all over the damn lineup instead of penciling him in the top five and leaving him the Hell alone. This is where I figure Heyward began to get lost deep in his own mind and naturally tinker with his approach which was best in the minors and the first half of his rookie campaign.
But Jason Heyward’s power was stymied because of his own fidgety ass movements in the box, all the movements in his hands and uncomfortable demeanor and stance. If Heyward let a hitting coach change him to the point where he couldn’t really functionally be the player he was, it’s his own fault. I’m pretty sure if he took his own approach out there and succeeded, a hitting coach would do a good job of doing no more than reminding the successful young player of the things he already knew. That’s really the job of a hitting instructor anyways.
Every time I watched a Heyward at-bat the last few years I just couldn’t believe what I saw. His plate discipline had eroded, he was taking fewer walks, swinging at more pitches, neglecting to use the entire field and rarely hitting balls hard. He didn’t handle breaking balls particularly well, leading to a sharp decline in the number of fastballs he saw.
I realize this is someone they said would be the gem in all of the game in a few years, and I realized that something had gone terribly wrong along the way more likely than Heyward being a bust.
Heyward seems to be a fragile player mentally – that’s the type of statement bloggers get in trouble for saying – but it’s something I’ve picked up on. He needs his confidence rebuilt, and I think over time in St. Louis some big hits in big moments for a successful organization are going to help accomplish that.
Heyward can’t fully blame the lead-off spot for the lack of pop in his bat. His own swing he developed over time and his approach were just as much the culprit.
And in closing, Fredi Gonzalez is the worst manager in baseball. Train-wreck hire from day one; if Bobby Cox could have hung on another five years, Heyward would likely still be in Atlanta and a perennial All-Star. Nothing good comes from Fredi Gonzalez.
Since we’re fantasy baseball nerds, we’ll be running down as much of a commentary as we can prior to your March fantasy drafts. If you’re having a draft before then, you’re violating a major man-law. Don’t do it. You’ll inevitably draft some guy who breaks his nads installing a hardwood floor or something. Here are our top-20 Outfielders for fantasy baseball 2014. We’re running this down similar to the guys at Razzball, though we could never pretend to be of the legendary status they’ve achieved.
1. Mike Trout: Until the younger bull knocks the old bull off the hill (Trout is the old bull in his age 22 season, didn’t you know?) you have to keep putting this guy here and leaving him alone. We just hope you were one of the lucky bastards who snagged him late and were able to keep him after that lackluster cup of coffee in 2011. That was so, so long ago. We figure Trout finally wins that MVP award, hits 30 homers, drives in around his career-high 97 and steals close to 40 while hitting around .320 again. No regression in sight.
2. Andrew McCutchen: There’s just no reason to move an MVP much when he’s entering that magical age-27 season. He wasn’t as Heavenly as his 2012 last season, but he was still remarkable and helped owners win a lot of leagues. What is there to say that hasn’t been said (that’s what we hate about these rankings at the top, everyone has these guys up here). McCutchen is a Ferrari, get him in your garage if you can.
3. Carlos Gomez: This is the guy we’re pretty proud of. He was our major sleeper heading into 2013, and he finally put it all together. What we love about Gomez is he’s a guy who seems to want those stats for you. He steals bases when his team is up big, he challenges for the extra base, he isn’t happy settling with that three-hit night. He plays the game hard and we think the power could enjoy another slight up-tick in 2014. The only thing about Gomez that sucks is when he takes away home runs from your other fantasy players playing center field. He owes Jay Bruce several.
4. Giancarlo Stanton: Big Mike struggled last season hitting .249, but he’ll enter 2014 with major motivation: play so well he can escape Miami for greener pastures and a mega-deal soon following. This will be the year that he eclipses 40 home runs if anyone does in the National league. This will be a .900 OPS season. This will be the year he finally plays like a first rounder. As they say on eBay, bid with confidence.
5. Carlos Gonzalez: 2010 seems so long ago when he finished third in MVP voting. Since then he’s missed time each season but was still spectacular when he was on the field. The only question with Gonzalez is health, if you believe he can stay healthy he will be stellar and steady. He’s not going to go out there and hit .260 at Coors Field. It’s just not going to happen. A solid first-round guy if he can play in 140-150 games.
6. Adam Jones: He’s in a great lineup, he’s in a nice hitter’s park, he’ll be just 28, and he’s baseball’s closest present-day version to Eric Davis. What we like most about Jones is his games played the past three years: 151, 162, 160.
7. Bryce Harper: Someday soon the nagging injuries that drive fantasy owners like us nuts will end, and Bryce Harper will have the biggest numbers of his young career. It’s not too much to ask for a player like Harper to post an average in the .280-.290 range with upwards of 35+ home runs and over 100 RBI and runs scored. We don’t look for him to steal many more than 10 – he’s bulked up – but that power is coming in a big way. He hit .344 and 9 HR in April last season. If he can put that together over a full year like he’s going to try to do……
8. Jacoby Ellsbury: We don’t like that he’s turning 30. We don’t like that he misses monstrous amounts of time about every other season. We do like that he is in that hitter’s park in the Bronx and think he offers 20-50 potential. Solid bet to be very good in the near-term. I want no part of him in a year or two though.
9. Jay Bruce: The Reds are going to have an average year. Jay Bruce is going to have a career year. He’s entering his age-27 season. He’ll get as close to 40 home runs as he has yet and he’ll hit around .275, and with Bruce what you’re buying is the consistency. A lock for 30+ home runs and 150 games played. His slumps will make you want to drown kittens. His hot streaks are other-worldly.
10. Ryan Braun: He’s really not going to miss a beat when he returns from his little hiatus in 2013. He’ll be the same old Braun, which is video-game numbers. It won’t be his career year, but short of that you’re getting one of the top sluggers in baseball with some steals, albeit a few less steals and probably a few less homers. All things considered, a guy we would love to have; even with the cheating!
11. Justin Upton: So now the world knows that he’s not the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr., and that’s okay! What Upton is, is just a pretty good player. And he’s going to be more comfortable in his second season in Atlanta. Something about Upton worries us a little bit; but when we think about it it’s just the poor taste he left in our mouth in 2012. Even then, he was pretty solid. He’s deserving of this high ranking.
12. Shin-soo Choo: He’s going to score a lot of runs out in that Texas heat and don’t be surprised if his numbers improve across the board in a lineup full of threatening hitters.
13. Yasiel Puig: There will be no in between for Puig in 2014. He does not simply maintain; he either becomes full-fledged fantasy superstar or completely collapses in his sophomore campaign. We’re talking .240 or .315ish with power and steals again. Either way, it’s going to be VERY entertaining. Biggest risk factor of anyone in these rankings.
14. Jose Bautista: He may be quickly approaching his decline. He is at an age where it is reasonable for a lot of players to lose bat speed and miss time to injuries. But we believe enough in Joey Bats’ skills to say he will provide one more glorious summer in the sun for fantasy owners. A return to the 30’s in HR, 100 RBI, and an OPS in the .900s for those that believe.
15. Jason Heyward: We don’t really plan to target him – which is why he’ll inevitably break out. If that’s not a good enough reason, keep in mind he’s playing for a monster contract. If you believe what the scouts originally said about Heyward back entering 2010, that huge year is coming this year or next.
16. Allen Craig: The guy with two first names always wrecks shit when he’s in the lineup. He’s a .300 hitting machine in a baseball town where everything seems to line up nicely for that organization. He’ll probably have a DL stint included, but if you can weather that storm you’ll get a .300 average, 20+ homers, near 100 RBI, and peace of mind rotating him between OF and 1B.
17. Matt Kemp: Another guy we don’t want to own, in part because his risk is not worth the overpay it will take to land him on draft day. If for some reason the bargain exists in the middle rounds – take a flier on the guy. The decline might only be a season or two away, but for now Kemp has something to prove and will be taking the field for a team with World Series expectations. It should be a nice year for the back of his baseball card.
18. Starling Marte: A lot of people out there will shy away from putting Marte in their top-20 because it’s too out on a limb. His power numbers should improve and he’ll be a realistic possibility for a 20-40 season. His average should not dip much further than .280 because speed like his doesn’t slump. An .800 OPS player who will be 25. The soon to be Pirates outfield of Marte, McCutchen, and Polanco could be a lot of fun.
19. Yoenis Cespedes: Why do I feel like the guy is probably older than his listed age of 28? He’s probably like 34, but these damn Cubans are ageless wonders with their chicken blood voodoo cocktails. If you want a projection on him an average of his first two seasons is fair to expect: 25ish HR, .265-.270, 81 RBI, 12 steals, 70 runs.
20. Domonic Brown: The bottom line is power comes at a premium these days in baseball. Gone are the days where any number of middle infielders slug 27 home runs for you and drive in 80-plus. For that, you’ll need to pick up a guy like Brown who should continue to hit home runs in bunches. If it wasn’t for an injury he would have easily entered the 30-homer club. He’ll be inducted in 2014.
Earlier in the week the Atlanta Braves made waves in the baseball world by signing Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward to contract extensions. Instead of just reporting the news that hundreds of other sites beat us to, we’ll try to react to something interesting and developing that is just now a footnote of this story.
You could have described this as the Braves committing multiyear contracts to a pair of 24-year-old stars who already have earned their first All-Star selections. But the chasm of more than $120 million tells you what this really was: a choice between the two.
At first my intuition said to me that the Heyward deal was a simple two-year bridge to a longer term contract. It would allow the Braves time to see what happens with Heyward before guys like Dan Uggla come off the books – and rightfully so. As high as we once were on Heyward, he remains one of baseball’s great enigmas. He has lost a little luster on his once flawless diamond.
But Morosi just might be right. This is really going to follow one of two possible paths. Neither of which look like the long-term future of Heyward is a certainty in Atlanta. We see Heyward putting together the best full year of his career this season in Atlanta, and then in 2015 in his contract year he has a MONSTROUS season and plays himself into a contract the Braves now probably can’t afford. The other path would be if Heyward simply remains a solid player. At that point he’ll probably still ask for too much we assume, and Atlanta would allow him to seek a contract they don’t see him worthy of in another city.
By committing the big dollars to Freeman, Frank Wren has gone with the safer option. And the Freeman contract is unlikely to end badly. Even if his ceiling might be a bit lower than Heyward’s, his floor looks to be higher at this point. He has a future that should be full of All Star appearances, even if he never wins an MVP. If Heyward ever puts it all together, he’ll bring home that award. But he’s been puzzling at best during his short career.
Over the next few years it will be interesting to see how Atlanta attempts to manage this situation with Heyward.
It wasn’t like they drew it up. Freddie Garcia matched Clayton Kershaw for six innings. The Dodgers gave up the lead in the 7th inning, and trailed by that score until the bottom of the 8th when Yasiel Puig came to face David Carpenter. Carpenter got a couple great pitches by Puig for strikes and in a two-strike count, Puig energized the Dodgers as he’s done time and again this year.
Freddie Freeman was not guarding the foul line in a no-doubles defense, and Puig laced a double down the line that was cut off by Jordan Schafer – and Puig’s incredible speed was evidenced by legging out the double. Uribe failed to get down a couple of bunts and reminded the world that he could be the worst bunter among regulars in the big leagues.
A few seconds later, Uribe caught a letter-high fastball from Carpenter that landed in the Dodgers bullpen. If you’ve been watching baseball for any amount of time, you knew that was a crushing blow. The Braves were broken with that moment.
Kenley Jansen came on in the ninth, blew away Schafer, Heyward, and Justin Upton and the Braves season was over.
There is a magic surrounding the Dodgers. Carl Crawford hit two home runs in this game to put the Dodgers ahead 2-0 early, but the Braves battled back opportunistically when the Dodgers made mistakes in the field, namely by Adrian Gonzalez.
This loss is not an indictment of the Braves honey bear manager, Fredi Gonzalez. He’s definitely horrific, and it’s not surprising that his teams seem to always face this collapsing fate. But the Braves and Gonzalez couldn’t have managed this much differently. Carpenter was throwing gas. Sometimes, Juan Uribe just homers.
The Dodgers await the opponent they will devour, either the Cardinals or the Pirates. Whoever it is will be next to be fed to the monster that is the LA Dodgers.
Braves fans are in for a fun year. You have to admire this organization. Chipper Jones exits stage left as possibly the greatest Atlanta Brave ever. The organization waits just a few months and brings in Justin Upton, a kid that many scouts said would be the next Ken Griffey Jr. type player and added him to a lineup who scouts said would be the next Ken Griffey Jr. type player (Jason Heyward).
The Braves have had a recent string of postseason letdowns. The had the eventual champion Giants on the ropes in 2010 and let them off the hook. They’ve lost one-game playoffs in each of the last two years. Braves fans must feel like they’re a bit snake-bitten.
Major Off-season Moves:
Traded for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson (for Martin Prado and Randall Delgado)
Signed B.J. Upton
Signed Gerald Laird
Traded for Jordan Walden (for Tommy Hanson)
Chipper Jones retired
Michael Bourn, David Ross, Jair Jurrjens signed elsewhere
The Braves run their organization in a professional manner. They’re going to have a really successful season. I expect them to be in the market for a starting pitcher along with St. Louis. If they can shore up their starting rotation, this team is going to be one of the top teams in baseball. They might be anyways, but at the end of the day I like their division rival Washington’s starting pitching a bit more.
In a year’s time, it seems like I was barely able to take solace in my own epitaph written on that page:
Every once in a while, we who follow the game of baseball are blessed with a generational talent of that era. This is that player.
And I could be wrong, but I think Heyward is back. Really back. Been to the lowest depths and didn’t know how good he had it once back. The wheels could still fall off just like they did after last April, but I think we’re seeing that crown jewel prospect who was once ranked ahead of Stephen Strasburg starting to become a force again.
I had the chance to scout Heyward’s at-bats all day long on MLB.tv. I made my wife mad because she couldn’t peel me away from the computer screen to put up an umbrella on our new porch table. I had to see his plate presence. I had to see what kind of pitches he was swinging at. And of course, what kind of results was he yielding.
In the first at-bat of Heyward’s game (a 7-4 win to complete an Atlanta sweep over the Milwaukee Brewers) he got Chris Narveson into a 3-1 count but just got jammed and flew out to center. He didn’t swing at any bad pitches. Next time up Heyward hit a towering home run off the lefty starter into the right field seats. It doesn’t look like line-drive power to me. He followed that by lining a 3-0 count rocket to left field off a lefty reliever and a walk off John Axford.
I hope Chipper’s right. This guy has a chance to be the crown jewel of the entire league if he’s right. There’s some other interesting points in the write-up–like Heyward coming off a bit ‘snarky’ when asked about childhood memories of David Justice and Fred McGriff.
There’s also a bit where new Braves hitting coach Greg Walker mentions this:
“We went back and looked at 2010, when he was really good,” Walker said. “We said to him, ‘OK, this is what you did. You’ve done it before, so that’s you.’ We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. We’re not trying to change Jason Heyward. We’re trying to get him to maximize his potential. We showed him. We filmed him and showed him what he looks like now, and how he looked in 2010. He saw the difference. To be honest with you, we haven’t made a lot of changes. We’re just trying to clean him up and get him back to where he was.”
So if you’re keeping score at home, Greg Walker and the Braves do not want to change Jason Heyward. But they want him to hit like he did in 2010.This idea is absurd, because if you saw him at the plate for much of last year, of course the Braves would like to change Jason Heyward. But you must be careful with the treatment and wording of such things around young potential stars.
And my mind shifts back to that rumor we heard way back when–when someone had said that the legendary Bobby Cox had said that Heyward was like a Ferrari: you have to be careful with them, you don’t want to dent them.
In June, batting .234, Heyward went on the disabled list to try to rest and rehab his shoulder. At one point, Chipper Jones suggested Heyward might need to learn to play with pain, which was whispered behind the outfielder’s back, and in August, Heyward was struggling so badly that he played sparingly.
“I knew how I felt,” Heyward says. “I knew what I could and couldn’t do. My swing got altered. I changed my hands to make up for the shoulder by changing my base load approach, and that got me more out of line. I tried to slow down and regroup, but it never worked on a consistent basis. When things go the way they were going, it would have done no good to try to answer people, who are going to believe what they’re going to believe. It hurt me, because I love to play; I wanted to be in there every day and contributing. It would have accomplished nothing to get into some war of words. I just focused on doing the best I could do each day, and when the season ended get my shoulder healed.”
If you follow Heyward on Twitter, the guy has been working like an animal to get in great shape and I think he’s going to rebound in a big way in 2012. This is good–baseball gets back one of it’s blossoming young stars and I get a one of my keepers in my most important fantasy baseball leagues to contribute usefully once again. It’s win/win all over the place.
The player we sponsor on Baseball Reference is not without homers as part of his game any longer. He didn’t hit any bombs in May. He didn’t hit any homers in June. But on July 1st, Jason Heyward lit up the skies like a firework and it was a legitimate bomb that put the Braves ahead 2-0 in the 6th inning. He’d add a single and score another run late in the game for good measure.
If Jason Heyward has the second half that we fully believe he is capable of having, he’s still got time to be a true MVP candidate if the Braves can run down the Phillies in the NL East. And it doesn’t really matter, because Atlanta is finally getting healthy and they’re playing great baseball.
Atlanta got a 1-hit shut out from Jair Jurrjens, the only hit against the Orioles being an Adam Jones single. Jurrjens will be in Arizona next week for the All Star Game. He’s 11-3 now with a 1.89 ERA. He might be the finest pitcher in all of baseball right now.
The Braves have a really, really nice nucleus right now. And Martin Prado is on the mend.
They’ve weathered some tough storms in the early part of this season, and have still managed to play 10 games above .500 baseball. They’ve gotten barely anything out of Jason Heyward–who someday should evolve into the biggest prize in all of the game. It might not be this year, but it’s fair to expect that Heyward will perform better for the remainder of the year than he has so far. Another player who falls in that category is Dan Uggla, who has been way worse than his career norms.
If they can just remain reasonably healthy and continue to tread water at the current pace for a few more weeks, they’re going to get back Martin Prado and Tommy Hanson back by the middle of July. That’s when this team will open it’s sales and be running wide awake, we presume. By then, they could be the best all around team in baseball.
One of those reasons? They’re our MLB: The Show ’11 team of choice (with the addition of Michael Bourn). Johnny Venters, Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel, Uggla, Heyward, Prado, Jordan Schaefer, Nate Mclouth, Brian McCann, the list goes on and on. It’s a nice nucleus they’ve compiled to run down those Phillies.
The Braves are going to be right the thick of things until the end of things. Count on it.
Jason Heyward sounds like his return from a fractured ego sore right shoulder will happen tonight at Turner Field, and to really make everything smoothed over; it’s his bobblehead night!
Heyward told a person close to him this morning that he’s feeling good and ready to return to the lineup. After two minor league rehab games with Triple-A Gwinnett up in Indianapolis, Heyward traveled back to Atlanta today. Heyward will likely take batting practice before the Braves make a final decision on activating him but he told this person his shoulder is feeling as good as it’s felt in a long time and he’s “ready to get back to the office.”
Yea, whatever. Let’s just hope he hits .260 or better with some pop so that he doesn’t need to go back on the DL for some type of imaginary injury that multiple MRI’s cannot detect. We knew we never should have sponsored his B-R page.