Jason Heyward had one of the best seasons ever for a player so young, but the Braves right fielder still had to settle for second in the National League Rookie of the Year race.
San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey beat out Heyward for the NL rookie award announced Monday by the Baseball Writers Association of America, as two Georgia natives finished in the top spots on the ballot.
Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz won the American League Rookie of the Year award, the former Braves prospect totaling 20 first-place votes to Detroit runner-up Austin Jackson’s eight.
Posey, who is from Leesburg in South Georgia, hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBIs in 108 games and received first-place votes on 20 of 32 NL ballots.
Heyward, from McDonough, hit .277 with 18 homers, 72 RBIs and a .393 on-base percentage in 142 games, and got nine first-place votes and 20 second-place votes.
St. Louis pitcher Jaime Garcia had one first-place vote and finished third overall, and Florida first baseman Gaby Sanchez got the other two first-place votes and finished fourth.
Braves reliever Jonny Venters got one third-place vote and tied for eighth with Pittsburgh’s Jose Tabata.
Four Atlanta Braves rookies have won the award: Earl Williams (1971), Bob Horner (1978), David Justice (1990) and Rafael Furcal (2000). Chipper Jones was runner-up to 26-year-old rookie Hideo Nomo in 1995.
Five years ago, Heyward’s Henry County High team beat Posey’s Lee County High for the Georgia Class AAAA state championship, when Heyward was a sophomore and Posey a senior.
Heyward, who turned 21 in August, finished fourth in the NL – among all hitters, not just rookies — in walks (93) and on-base percentage. His .393 OBP was the sixth-highest ever for a player younger than 21 at the beginning of the season.
He led all qualifying rookies with an .849 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). Heyward is nearly 2-1/2 years younger than Posey, who played at Florida State (Heyward signed with the Braves out of high school.)
Posey began the season in Triple-A and wasn’t called to the majors until May 29. But he worked his way into the fourth spot in the Giants’ lineup and, despite having only three years of catching experience, he was lauded for his skills and leadership of a pitching staff that led the majors with a 3.36 ERA.
That pitching staff was the mainstay for San Francisco on the way to its World Series championship.
“You talk about a catcher hitting cleanup, you think of Johnny Bench,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said in describing how special was Posey. “You just don’t see many of these guys.”
Among Braves with at least 50 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Heyward’s .306 average in those situations was the team’s second-best, and his .927 OPS was the team leader. Meanwhile, Posey led the Giants with a .312 average and .923 OPS with runners in scoring position.
Heyward played through a thumb injury that diminished his power for about six weeks and eventually required a DL stint that kept him out of the All-Star Game after he was elected as a starter.
Tales of his batting-practice exploits during spring training lifted Heyward to an almost mythic status with Braves fans before most saw him play. He added to the legend by pounding a tape-measure homer in his first at-bat on opening day against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field, sending a sellout crowd into a frenzy.
Heyward jerseys flew off the shelves, and the 6-foot-5, 245-pound slugger also had a positive effect in the clubhouse. He played with enthusiasm and earned admiration from teammates for the way he conducted himself on and off the field, never seeking attention or letting success go to his head.
“Young kid, 20 years old, full of energy and talent,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said early in the season. “It really is energizing to have somebody like that for the veterans, to have someone come along and help immediately.”
Heyward and was one of the biggest stories in baseball during spring training and through April and most of May, when Posey was still in the minors.
But Posey would take the league by storm by mid-summer, batting .417 with seven homers, 24 RBIs and a 1.067 OPS in July in his second full month in the majors.
He helped the Giants beat the Braves in the division series on the way to their first World Series title since the team moved to San Francisco. (Posey’s postseason performance didn’t affect voting, as BBWAA ballots had to be submitted before the first game of the playoffs.)
Heyward started the season sizzling with a .301 average, 10 homers, 38 RBIs and league-leading 1.017 OPS through his first 46 games.
His production dipped after he sprained his thumb in late May. Heyward played through it for several weeks before eventually requiring a stint on the disabled list that kept him out of the All-Star Game after he was elected to start.
He hit just .179 with one homer, seven RBIs and a .513 OPS in 29 games from May 21 through July 18, which included his first three games back from the DL.
From July 19 through the end of the season, Heyward hit .306 with seven homers and an .891 OPS in 67 games, with 48 walks and a .423 on-base percentage.
– By David O’Brien, Braves blog