Are we expecting too much too soon from Jason Heyward?

Braves superstar-in-the-making Jason Heyward seems unaffected by the circus surrounding him. (Phil Skinner/AJC)

Braves superstar-in-the-making Jason Heyward seems unaffected by the circus surrounding him. (Phil Skinner/AJC)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.  – The expectations in the past few weeks have grown like some mutant life form. First we wondered if he could make the team in spring training. Then we wondered how many cars he would destroy in batting practice. Now there’s a thought he has first ballot Hall of Famer stamped on his forehead. And if not, what’s wrong with those crazy voters?

It wasn’t like this even for Tommy Hanson. Or Jordan Schafer. Or Jeff Francoeur, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andy Marte or Chipper Jones. No Braves prospect in memory has created the stir that Jason Heyward has.

Even Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said he has never seen a player with the combination of Heyward’s talent, attitude and maturity. Never.

All of this begs the question: Is there a danger in expecting too much too soon? We’re one candlelight vigil short of the kid being declared a deity.

“To be fair to Jason, the general public is going to need to realize there’s going to be a learning curve,” Jones said. “Whether it’s the beginning of April or the end of May, or whenever, I hope people temper their expectations a little bit. We all hope he comes out like a house of fire and he’s another Albert Pujols. But he’s under enough pressure. Just leave him alone and let him play.”

Pressure? If Heyward is stressed, he excels at hiding it. Sitting on the floor, legs stretched out in front of his locker, wearing jersey No. 71 and tucked into the back room of the clubhouse with the slightly more obscure “non-roster invitees,” Heyward looks at people like they’re from Neptune when they ask about concepts like pressure and high expectations.

There’s a circus around him. But he’s oblivious. Understand, he isn’t merely a great prospect. He is a home-grown, great prospect. He is bright, talented and good looking. Pepsodent smile. Idol material. An African American in the city of Atlanta.

Whether we’re talking baseball or marketing, Jason Heyward is a grand slam.

“I’m not going to put pressure on myself,” Heyward said. “There’s no pressure for me to do anything. I just want to have fun playing the game. If I go for 0-for-4 or 0-for-19, I mean, that’s life. It’s baseball. It’s just a game.”

And there’s no thought of what media or fans are projecting?

“I couldn’t tell you what other people’s expectations are,” he said. “When I was a fan growing up, I didn’t have high expectations. I just watched the game and enjoyed it for what it was.”

There is a chance he makes the team out of spring training. There’s a chance he starts the season in right field and takes up permanent residency. Maybe he becomes a staple, like Henry Aaron, Dale Murphy and David Justice. (Francoeur shot up like a bottle rocket, then nose-dived just as fast.)

Jones already has noticed the 20-year-old standing in right field alone, learning how to take angles on fly balls. “I’ve noticed because I’m looking to help guys if they need it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever have to say anything to him.”

Pendleton said, “A lot of players say they don’t live for the hype but they really do. They read everything about themselves. Not this guy. He’s just different.”

Heyward’s reaction to all this? Whatever.

“I’ve had emotions – I wasn’t born like this,” he said, trying to explain his even-keeled nature. “I’ve been exposed to a lot growing up. My parents have shown me everything, from my uncle living in a trailer park in South Carolina to their friends who are living in Beverly Hills.”

The Braves made a conscious decision to say Heyward could make the team in the spring. “He deserved it,” Bobby Cox said. “That’s when the hype really started.”

Cox is aware of the dangers of this, but said: “It depends what your expectations are. Can he beat somebody out in spring training? Yes. Is he going to hit .330 with 40 homers? No, not even close. Even Mickey Mantle almost had to go back down. Willie Mays got off to a horrendous start. Not that I’m comparing him to those guys.”

No. Not yet.

Earlier posts from  Braves’ camp:

Live from the parking lot! Jason Heyward’s landing zone.

The maturing of Yunel Escobar

Eric Hinske and his $5,000 tattoo.

♦ Derek Lowe looking forward after rough year and trade talk.

56 comments Add your comment

Bobo feet

February 26th, 2010
3:55 pm

HAYWARD???

Come on JS

Rusty

February 26th, 2010
3:56 pm

Paul H

February 26th, 2010
4:00 pm

Excited about 71 but I don’t have crazy expectations. I’m just going to enjoy watching him mature into a big league ballplayer.

EW

February 26th, 2010
4:00 pm

my only hesitation with all this premature celebration of the kid is that the last “hometown hero” we had in right field didn’t pan out so well. Fans need to realize a rookie is a rookie…there WILL be growing pains. JH needs our support, let the adoration come when it’s due.

D-Man

February 26th, 2010
4:05 pm

BOBO FEET,..COME’ON MAN, GIVE JEFF A BREAK. TYPOS CAN HAPPEN..MY GOSH, HIS LAST NAME IS USED A TON IN THIS COLUMN. GLAD YOU DONT MAKE MISTAKES…

matt r

February 26th, 2010
4:09 pm

The greatest Heyward to hit Atlanta since Ironhead.

JS, does the obliviousness come off as “I’m too cool for school” or just simple humility?

El Bravo

February 26th, 2010
4:21 pm

With the crazy expectations being placed on the kid I am almost (almost) hoping he starts the season in the Minors. Let him dominate AAA for a couple of months (a la Hanson) and then bring him up. I don’t care how cool and collected he appears to be he is still only 20. The last two wunderkinds we brought up prematurely (Francoeur and Schafner) looked good for a minute and then went on a serious nosedive…

Paul

February 26th, 2010
4:30 pm

I’d be all for letting him start in the minors if we had an outfield a little stronger than McClouth/Diaz/Cabrera. We need this kid up early and often.

Ted M

February 26th, 2010
4:42 pm

How is Lars Tate’s son doing, wasn’t he drafted close to Heyward?

cRAZY

February 26th, 2010
4:43 pm

He’s not even had a major league at bat and there is no room for me on the band wagon!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ted M

February 26th, 2010
4:49 pm

damn everybody, Schafer had a significant injury, in his youth he thought he was tough enough to play thru it and learn major league hitting at the same time. He wasn’t brought up to soon but was not protected from his own, lets call it, youthful arrogance by management after the injury.

I am an idiot

February 26th, 2010
4:51 pm

I think Bobby should wait until after August to put Heyward on the roster.

McCann Fan

February 26th, 2010
4:51 pm

I think anyone who has had success in any field will tell you that you can learn just as much from failure as you can from success. I say start him, let him learn, succeed, fail, and succeed again. There is no reason to let him “develop” any more in the minors if he is ready, and March will tell us if he’s ready. Best of luck to him and we all look forward to backing him for years to come.

Conyers Braves Fan

February 26th, 2010
5:09 pm

All of the hype should stop. People should realize that he has never had a major league at bat.
Not fair to the player. At least see what he does in the spring training games before
declaring him the next Ken Griffey (see today`s ESPN home page).

T Burns

February 26th, 2010
5:10 pm

too good too be true. wait, am i a braves fan or a mets fan?

Brian

February 26th, 2010
5:11 pm

There are some parallels between Heyward and Francoeur, but not when it comes to their actual play. Frenchy’s minor league line: .285/.332/.480, 264 K/89 BB. Heyward’s: .318/.391/.508, 138 K/105 BB. That’s not only better, it blows Francoeur out of the water. Heyward’s already demonstrated the things we always were waiting on Frenchy to learn. In the minors, that K/BB ratio is especially critical, and Heyward’s is outstanding. He also did it all a year younger than Frenchy at each level. Jeff was never regarded as the top prospect in the game, or anything close to it.

Heyward is not likely to hit 30 HR and drive in a 100 runs this year. But Jeff Francoeur he is not.

Jamaaliver

February 26th, 2010
5:13 pm

I agree with waiting till midseaason before bringing him up.

I’d rather bring him along too slowly, than too quickly. Melky can keep his spot warm until July.

lanier

February 26th, 2010
5:31 pm

Were you a cheerleader in high school too Jeff ?

Robz747

February 26th, 2010
5:45 pm

How about we trust Bobby Cox, Terry Pendelton here… If they say he is ready to go then why would any conscious braves fan say send him to the Minors until mid season??
I do feel we are starting to have some unreal expectations of him this early on, but at the very same time were looking at him batting 7th or 8th in the lineup, much less pressure than hitting 3-6!

He seems to be really enjoying playing baseball and learning, let him at the Major League Level, I am quite sure he will do better than Melky

Bill

February 26th, 2010
6:49 pm

Jeff you and other reporters are putting alot of pressure on the kid. You and fans already have him in RF and they hadn’t played a damn game in Spring Training. Give the Kid a break.

I think there’s other players on the team you could give some print…how about some of the new players? Enough is enough give Heyward a week or two.

Give Me A Break

February 26th, 2010
6:59 pm

The premise that too much may be expected is a joke!

Who is reporting the hype on Heyward? The media of course. Who is feeding the media the info to supplement the superhuman feats the media witnesses themselves? Players/management/scouts and other media.

Take the car smashing stories, mix with a liberal dose of player/managment speculation, stir briskly with comparisons to the greats of the game and voila! The Hype seed is planted! And who is responsible for planting it? Players, management, the media!

And so the fans should be cautioned not to expect too much from this superman that has been created by the above named entities?

Give me a freakin break!

GetwhatUpayfor

February 26th, 2010
7:12 pm

Last year it was Schafer, schafer, schafer and more schafer….look at him now he has played 3 months in 2 years because of drugs and injury. DOB and Jeff need to report on all players not just on what “Give me a break” above wrote.

A drunkards ramblings

February 26th, 2010
7:29 pm

As much as I usually like for young guys to spend time in lower ball to get at bats I think the best thing for this kid is to spend a lot of time sitting on a bench in between TP, Chipper, and Bobby learning the game every minute he isn’t on the field.

GetwhatUpayfor

February 26th, 2010
7:34 pm

good advice ramblings

layinlow

February 26th, 2010
7:47 pm

I have been watching baseball a long damn time. And let me tell you folks he is the real deal. I have never seen a player at his young age with the incredible plate discipline that he has shown. It is absolutely off the charts. The kid doesn’t strike out, he either hits a line drive bullet or walks. And to throw a cherry on top, his parents are both IVY league graduates. The guy is an unreal athlete, big, and unbelievably smart. I really believe he will make the club out of spring training and began to shine in the bigs this season. He is the next pujols, joe mauer type. I really and truly believe that to be the case.

jerry

February 26th, 2010
7:59 pm

You could’ve fooled me too.

ASHEVILLE DAWG

February 26th, 2010
8:14 pm

Can we start calling him “St. Heyward” yet.

Over the Top

February 26th, 2010
8:33 pm

It’s like I just, I just flip a switch

oldfart

February 26th, 2010
9:00 pm

I love the tales of phenoms with the coming of spring. I truly hope this one blossoms.

Jeff Schultz

February 26th, 2010
9:05 pm

EW — I hear you about Francoeur. But I think this kid is a little more stable.

Jeff Schultz

February 26th, 2010
9:06 pm

D-man — I think that one typo was up for about 10 mins before being caught. That’s not too bad.

Jeff Schultz

February 26th, 2010
9:07 pm

Matt R — Definitely humility. And Ironhead rocked. One of my favorite athletes and people ever to cover.

Jeff Schultz

February 26th, 2010
9:10 pm

Conyers — Good comments. I can’t imagine being that young and having those kind of expectations placed on you. Gotta be pretty strong mentally to handle it.

Jeff Schultz

February 26th, 2010
9:12 pm

Lanier — You lost me.

Jeff Schultz

February 26th, 2010
9:16 pm

Bill — I came down here to write several blogs and four print columns. I really don’t think it’s unreasonable that one of the four columns was on the player almost everybody is talking about, do you?

[...] ALSO READ: Heyward doesn’t see why he’s such a big deal. [...]

n

February 26th, 2010
10:37 pm

Comparing him to Griffey (the kid as he was called) would mean you can expect these #’s:

.264 avg, 16hr’s,

That was Griffey as a rookie, seems many are penciling him in to do quite a bit more then that even. At this point one can only dream that he will be half the player Griffey was. After all not many players have 630 home runs and played such a great centerfield.

Drew

February 26th, 2010
11:13 pm

Whoever is in rightfield will be a welcome sight. Not because of who is there or not there but because it will mean Hotlanta is close to being hot again. I’m so tired of this darn clod weather. Is it April yet?

Jeff Schultz

February 26th, 2010
11:42 pm

N — Those numbers put things in perspective.

Da'Richt

February 27th, 2010
12:38 am

Heyward reminds me of the man named Aaron.. Maybe.

But when you put your stock in a Rookie when you are too cheap to keep or obtain proven veterans you are a .500 team…

Corporate baseball..

Furman Bisher

February 27th, 2010
1:55 am

Schultz writing stinks worse than the Cleveland steamer I just dropped in my pants!

Has anyone seen my colostome bag?!

jc_dawgs

February 27th, 2010
5:39 am

No he has not faced any major league pitcher yet. But the fact remains…his power is virtually unparalleled when you take into account his age. When most hitters just miss a pitch…it results in a deep fly ball for an out. That wont happen with Heyward. If he just misses or gets a little under a pitch….he has enough power to jack it out of the park.

And btw…though I also don’t believe he will hit .340 with 40 HRs this year. Does anyone know the record for HRs by a rookie? I would not be surprised if he makes a run at it.

Braves win, Braves win

February 27th, 2010
6:53 am

Could they go ahead and get him a real major league number and get some jerseys made up and on the shelves? Could use a replacement for the Francoeur jersey and we all know the Braves could use the revenue!

Brian

February 27th, 2010
7:39 am

Mark McGwire officially holds the rookie record with 49 home runs in 1987. But he played a little bit the season before. The record for home runs by a player in his first season is 38, by Frank Robinson in 1956 and Boston Brave Wally Berger in 1930.

Ted Williams drove in 145 runs in his very first season. That might be a tough record to break.

TommyJack

February 27th, 2010
8:10 am

Hey Jeff. Remember David Clyde? (probably before your time)

[...] ♦ Are we expecting too much too soon from Jason Heyward? [...]

Reid Adair

February 27th, 2010
10:58 am

I think the despair of the last few years has caused Braves’ fans, particularly long-time fans, to put a bit too much on Jason Heyward’s shoulders. I agree with Chipper Jones. There will be a learning curve, and there may well be times that it won’t be very pretty.

[...] ♦ Are we expecting too much too soon from Jason Heyward? [...]

[...] for his egregious contribution to the hyperbole machine, he cautions readers to temper their expectations for [...]

[...] Schultz has filed his latest take on Heyward, warns of inflated expectations. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Francoeur on [...]