Baseball America, which covers the minor leagues like Willie Mays used to cover center field in the Polo Grounds, has already seen its top four preseason prospects reach the majors and make impacts. No. 1 was Matt Wieters, the Baltimore catcher from Georgia Tech. No. 2 was David Price, the Tampa Bay pitcher. No. 3 was Colby Rasmus, the St. Louis outfielder. No. 4 was Tommy Hanson, of whom you’ve heard.
So now, this being midseason, BA has a new No. 1 prospect (link requires registration), and you’ve heard of him, too. He’s Jason Heyward, who just moved from Myrtle Beach, the Braves’ highest Class A affiliate, to Mississippi, and the pride of McDonough, Ga., is tearing it up in Class AA. Writes Baseball America: “A promotion to Double-A Mississippi made it possible that Heyward could jump to the majors in 2009, just two years after being drafted.”
Last week Buster Olney of ESPN.com’s Insiders raised the same issue: Could Heyward, who doesn’t turn 20 until Aug. 9, be summoned to Atlanta way ahead of schedule? (Previous projections had him reaching the majors in the summer of 2010 and taking over in right field in 2011.) As Olney wrote (requires registration):
“Jason Heyward has been crushing the ball since being promoted to Double-A, hitting .417 with eight extra-base hits in his first 10 games, and — here’s something pretty impressive — four walks and two strikeouts. The Braves’ intention is to be as patient as possible with Heyward, who does not turn 20 until Aug. 9, and they do not want to put him in a situation in which he’s under too much pressure. But if the Braves are contending in late August and they still have a need for production from an outfielder, and Heyward continues to dominate in Double-A, you do wonder if he might get some consideration. That bridge of conversation, however, is a long way off.”
Heyward’s updated stats in Class AA: He’s hitting .378 with six doubles, two triples and a home run. He has stuck out twice in 45 at-bats. His on-base percentage is .463. His slugging percentage is .677. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) is an off-the-charts 1.130.
Last week Mark Bowman, who covers the Braves for MLB.com, interviewed Heyward before the Futures Game in St. Louis — Heyward had a single therein — and quoted him as saying: “Obviously, it’s going to be whenever the Braves want me to go. I just have to make sure that I’m prepared to help them out whenever they make that call.”
Bowman on the Braves’ presumed timetable: “While the Braves aren’t publicly revealing a specific plan for Heyward, there’s a belief that he’ll complete this season with Mississippi and then spend the first half of the 2010 season with Triple-A Gwinnett. If he continues on his current path, by this time next year, there’s a good chance he’ll find himself playing in the Atlanta outfield.”
MLB.com offers this breakdown on Heyward’s Top 50 Prospects page: “Heyward has a big, strong and athletic frame and an excellent left-handed swing with plus power potential. An advanced approach at the plate is highlighted by excellent patience. He runs well, especially for his size, and is an excellent baserunner. A strong outfielder with an above-average arm, he can play well in right. His work ethic and attitude are huge advantages.”
Any antecedents? MLB.com mentions two: “[Heyward is an] All-Star-caliber right fielder in the Dave Parker mold. He’s also drawn comparisons to Willie McCovey.”
Dave Parker was the 1978 National League MVP. Willie McCovey was the 1969 NL MVP. Either of those will do nicely.
Oh, and Freddie Freeman, the first baseman who’s also playing for the Mississippi Braves? He’s No. 11 on Baseball America’s list.