Heyward’s The Man

By Mark Bowman
Updated: January 27, 2010

ATLANTA — After being introduced to Jason Heyward three years ago, Braves manager Bobby Cox told a group of reporters, “I knew he was big, but I didn’t know that he was that big.”

Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing approximately 220 pounds, Heyward remains the physically imposing figure that he was when he was terrorizing high-school pitchers from the Atlanta area.

But the giant presence the 20-year-old Braves outfielder has gained within the baseball world can be attributed to the power and athleticism that has enabled him to separate himself from some of the game’s other highly regarded prospects.

When MLB.com announced its seventh annual list of the game’s top 50 prospects on Wednesday night, Heyward was recognized as No. 1. This marked the first time that MLB.com has bestowed this honor on a player from the Braves’ system.

The only other Braves player recognized on this year’s list was Julio Teheran, a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher who was tabbed as the game’s 34th-best prospect.

MLB.com also recognized Heyward as the game’s top prospect within a midseason evaluation that was published at the end of July. While the young outfielder appreciates the attention created by these lists, his desired prize remains the opportunity to display his skills at the Major League level.

“My eye is always on the ball,” Heyward said. “The ball has always been the same thing — be in the Major Leagues. That’s the biggest thing — to be in Atlanta, playing baseball well, supporting the team and contributing in my own way.”

As the Braves prepare for this upcoming season, they plan to give Heyward every opportunity to win the starting right-field job during Spring Training. Despite the fact that he has recorded fewer than 200 plate appearances above the Class A level, the club is confident that he has the physical and mental skills necessary to make this jump to the Majors.

“He’s got great makeup,” Cox said. “He’s very smart, and he’s extremely talented. He’s got the entire package.”

The son of a pair of Dartmouth graduates, Heyward possessed an advanced maturity that is just as impressive as the .963 OPS that he compiled while playing at three different Minor League levels last year.

Last summer, a National League scout said that Heyward was the most poised and composed Minor Leaguer that he’d seen since Derek Jeter.

Heyward was selected by the Braves with the 14th overall selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. In 238 Minor League games, he has hit .318 with 29 homers, 26 stolen bases and an .899 OPS.

While playing with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this past season, Heyward combined to hit .323 with 25 doubles, 17 homers and a .555 slugging percentage.

“He’s a special kind of player,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.

Teheran’s rise toward the Majors was slowed by some shoulder discomfort that bothered him during both of the past two seasons. But while recording 67 strikeouts and issuing just 18 walks in the 81 1/3 innings he combined to throw last season, the right-hander showed the form that helped him become one of the top international signings in 2007.

In the 14 combined starts he made for rookie-level Danville and Rome last year, Teheran posted a 3.65 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Still rail-thin, the righty has scouts wondering how much velocity he can add to his already above-average fastball if he puts on another 20-30 pounds.

There are also still some concerns about Teheran’s secondary pitches and willingness to transform from a “thrower” to a “pitcher.” But this young hurler from Colombia certainly possesses the physical traits clubs love to see in young pitchers.