Wren on Jason Heyward: “A good-looking young player”

As his big-league team played itself back into the playoff chase, Frank Wren devoted last week to future-gazing. He spent four days in Pearl, Miss., and Huntsville, Ala., watching the Braves’ Class AA affiliate. He stayed at what’s known as the Space Marriott in Huntsville, the one with rockets visible out the window. He saw at least one player whose career has assumed a similar trajectory.

Wren saw Jason Heyward turn 20. He also saw him do all the things the glowing daily reports suggest he has been doing. Not long ago Baseball America named Heyward, an outfielder two years removed from Henry County High, the minor leagues’ top prospect, and even in the attempt to understate Wren made a powerful concession. Said the general manager: “He’s a good-looking young player.”

Heyward has played 32 games for Mississippi since being promoted from Class A Myrtle Beach. He’s hitting .405 with six home runs and 24 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .485. His slugging percentage is .730. He has walked more times (17) than he has struck out (12). Said Wren: “He progressed at Myrtle Beach, and he has handled AA even better than we thought he would. That’s fair to say.”

Obvious question: When do the Braves expect Heyward in Atlanta? Obvious GM’s non-answer: Too soon to tell. “We really don’t have a timetable,” Wren said. “That’s one the traps you fall in with young players — setting a timetable. Sometimes the timetable gets pushed up.”

Could Heyward’s development accommodate a September call-up? “We haven’t even really discussed that. Those are some of the most difficult decisions you have to make: When you consider all factors, when is the right time? Is there a comfort level — is he ready to handle it physically and mentally?”

OK, the physical part: Heyward has been likened to Darryl Strawberry (link requires registration) by Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman in conversation with ESPN.com and to Willie McCovey and Dave Parker by MLB.com. Said Wren: “I’ve heard a lot of descriptions. Jason does a lot of things on the baseball field. He has an above-average arm; he has power and speed; he can play all three outfield positions. And for a 20-year-old kid he has a pretty advanced understanding of the strike zone.”

If you’re waiting for Wren to say Heyward is a lock for Cooperstown come the year 2030, wait on. No GM is going to saddle any 20-year-old with that baggage. But what he says about Heyward and his Mississippi teammate Freddie Freeman, the 19-year-old first baseman, is fairly revealing.

If you were GM, what would you do with Jason Heyward?

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“We’re very fortunate to have both of them. You don’t see many 19- or 20-year-olds who are so talented … We’re always projecting three or four years into the future, what our needs will be, and it’s no secret Chipper’s getting older [Jones is 37]. We’re going to have to transition to a new nucleus, and Jason and Freddie and Jordan Schafer are a part of that.”

The guess — and it’s just a guess, for Wren will concede nothing — has been that the Braves want Heyward (and Freeman, too) to start 2010 in Class AAA, the same as Tommy Hanson did this spring. And it also seems clear that, in trading away right fielder Jeff Francoeur and first baseman Casey Kotchman, the Braves have made big-league space for the hot prospects. “It’s not like we were trying to clear a spot for them,” Wren said, but it sure seemed that way.

And here’s one final, albeit subtle, indicator. Asked what he took from his Southern sojourn, Wren thought for a moment and said: “I don’t think I saw anything I didn’t expect to see.”

We can assume he didn’t go in search of  the next Greg Norton.

132 comments Add your comment

ghostwriter

August 11th, 2009
10:28 am

Allen

August 11th, 2009
10:33 am

It certainly does seem like the Braves are positioned well for a year or two down the road. Interesting possibilities!

Powder Springs Jacket

August 11th, 2009
10:38 am

I reeeeaalllyy hope that he doesn’t turn into the next Francouer

ghostwriter

August 11th, 2009
10:40 am

Anyway, good article, MB. It’s good to see the Wren isn’t putting any pressure on our prospects. He isn’t going to rush them, which is good. I can’t wait to see Heyward, Freeman, and Schafer all on the field performing.

ugaaccountant

August 11th, 2009
10:46 am

If Heyward were called up today, he would perform. He is absolutely a beast right now. The only question would be how he and pitchers would adjust to him by the offseason. Perhaps if necessary call him up for our stretch run and still consider sending him back to AAA in the spring if he appears uncomfortable.

PMC

August 11th, 2009
10:47 am

“It’s not like we were trying to clear a spot for them…”

Really? Then why make those trades? Of COURSE you were clearing a spot for them. We know you can’t bring them up in earnest until June.

MightyQuinn

August 11th, 2009
10:48 am

“A good looking young player”??? And ScarJo is just a “good looking young woman”!!!!!

Hillbilly Deluxe

August 11th, 2009
10:49 am

In that pic he does look a bit like Willie McCovey, And speaking of Willie, I don’t think I remember anybody who could just flat mash a ball like he could. He hit some of the longest homers I’ve seen.

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
10:51 am

As I recall, Willie McCovey played left field for a while. The Giants had Orlando Cepeda at first base.

Joey

August 11th, 2009
10:52 am

You just keep on picking on Cox’s “Nortie”, MB, and you be getting the silent treatment from Bobby as well as Smoltz…

MightyQuinn

August 11th, 2009
10:53 am

And I still say, send him (and maybe Freeman too) on to Gwinnett now. Though I doubt they will send Freeman as Canizares is playing pretty good ball at first there. And it seems like they want to keep the two of them moving through the system together.

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
10:54 am

Cox never reads anything I write. Nobody with any sense does. (Whoops, that didn’t come out right …)

AndyC

August 11th, 2009
11:00 am

Mark

The comment about Norton was cold blooded…but funny.

Steve from OH

August 11th, 2009
11:01 am

Did Wren mention any other prospects, Mark? I’d imagine he had some nice things to say about Jose Ortegano…

Joey

August 11th, 2009
11:02 am

I’m insulted (waiting on your next blog).

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
11:02 am

Didn’t mention any others, Steve. But I didn’t ask about any others, either.

jeffrey d

August 11th, 2009
11:05 am

And he ends on a Greg Norton burn….nice.

It’s exciting to think about the future with the talented prospects we have. But as Freddie Freeman’s recent face plant shows, they need to take their sweet time in the minors.

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
11:08 am

I laughed at that one, Joey.

Chris

August 11th, 2009
11:08 am

I’m thinking more like 2033.

What happened to letting great prospects playing full seasons in the minors? It seems like you’d want your guys getting used to a single place and the competition at gradual degrees. It seems like the Glavines, Smoltzes, Justices, Chippers, etc., spent more time developing than what they do now.

Maybe that has something to do with a lack of depth now, but I don’t see what the rush is with these guys. Let them mature. They would be in their 2nd or 3rd year of college if they weren’t playing ball. Babies.

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
11:11 am

The story goes that Al Campanis, general manager of the Dogers, sat in the press box and watched the hugely touted Candy Maldonado get his first big-league hit and said: “That’s the first of 3,000!”

Then again, Maldonado did beat the Braves in Game 4 of the 1992 World Series. And he did hit a home run in the clinching Game 6. But he was with Toronto then.

Chris

August 11th, 2009
11:16 am

So, he’ll have forgotten how to be patient when TP gets a hold of him.

What number do you think he’ll wear with the Phillies when we trade him?

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
11:17 am

That’s optimism, Chris.

I know Mr. Heyward has worn both 34 and 24 in the minors.

Bama Aaron

August 11th, 2009
11:18 am

Freeman could use another season or two. Honestly with what I’ve seen of Heyward it doesn’t matter if you wait til mid next season or call him up now he’ll perform. All kinds of talent and the head to know how to use it. From a prospect maturity standpoint I would liken him much more to McCann than to Frenchy…

Baby Ruth

August 11th, 2009
11:21 am

Separated at birth: Greg Norton and “Droopy”…

PETA Watcher

August 11th, 2009
11:25 am

Anticipation of Vick Signing Gains Steam
Source: ‘At Least Five’ Teams Interested
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
There was renewed anticipation Monday in and around the NFL that recently reinstated quarterback Michael Vick might be inching closer to signing with a team.
After Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts coach who serves as an adviser to Vick, said during the television broadcast of Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game that he expected Vick to sign soon, several people familiar with the deliberations indicated Monday a handful of teams have been demonstrating behind-the-scenes interest.
“I don’t know where he’s gonna end up,” one person familiar with the situation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the talks are at a sensitive stage. “I can’t tell you which teams, but I know there’s at least five.”
As of Monday, it had been two weeks since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick, allowing him to sign and participate in practices. Vick is eligible to play in his team’s final two preseason games, and Goodell is to rule by Week 6 on Vick’s eligibility to play in regular season games.
The former standout quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons has missed the last two NFL seasons while serving his federal sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation in Virginia. His partial reinstatement by Goodell came a week after Vick was released from federal custody. Vick is a free agent after being released by the Falcons in the offseason.
No NFL team has acknowledged publicly it is attempting to sign Vick. But Dungy, now an NFL analyst for NBC, said during the network’s broadcast of the Bills-Titans preseason game in Canton, Ohio, that Vick had been in contact with a handful of teams, and “he has several teams interested.” Dungy said he’d spoken to a number of NFL coaches about Vick.

The former coach did not identify any of the interested teams but indicated he believed Vick could be signed within a week or so. Dungy said “something may happen here pretty shortly.”
Dungy said he wasn’t sure if Vick, who is set to be interviewed on “60 Minutes” this Sunday, is in football-playing shape. But a person familiar with the situation said Monday he’d been told Vick is in very good physical condition after training recently with speed coach Tom Shaw.
Vick’s representatives have said little publicly about their deliberations with teams, and agent Joel Segal was not available to comment Monday. But even before Dungy’s comments, some within the league had suspected Vick would end up back on an NFL roster at some point in the not-too-distant future.
“There’s usually a market for good football players,” New York Giants General Manager Jerry Reese said late last week at his team’s training camp in Albany, N.Y. “That’s really not for me to say. [But] he’s a good football player, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with a team before the season’s out.”
Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said at his club’s camp in Bethlehem, Pa., last week that “with every player, there’s risk” and he was waiting to see what happens when the Vick situation “plays itself out.”
The upstart United Football League, which begins play this fall, has been mentioned as a possible fallback. But people close to Vick have said he is focused on a return to the NFL.
Any NFL team that contemplates signing Vick will have to consider the possible public relations ramifications, people within the league have said, and then will have to discuss how he would fit into that club’s quarterback hierarchy and offensive system. Even the football-related considerations are a bit tricky, with the regular season only a month away.
“I really think the timing of it really has a lot to do with it,” Giants center Shaun O’Hara said late last week. “If this decision had been made in the spring and a team had a chance to bring him in and spend time with him and have him learn the offense, I think that maybe would be a different situation. Right now, everybody is trying to focus who they can have on the roster now, and then they’re going to be trimming rosters, not trying to add players.”
Some executives within the league continue to wonder if Vick could end up with the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers. Both are stable organizations with established quarterbacks who presumably wouldn’t feel threatened by Vick’s presence.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick at one point declined during a news conference to rule out signing Vick. But Patriots owner Robert Kraft said during a subsequent radio interview he doubted the club would make any move that would result in quarterback Tom Brady being out of the lineup for even a single play.
Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said during a recent news conference that his club considers all options. There were reports the Packers were giving serious consideration to signing Vick and had sent a member of the front office to meet with him, but team president Mark Murphy has said he doesn’t envision the move being made.
Carolina Panthers Coach John Fox has declined to rule out signing Vick but also indicated he thinks his team is set at quarterback.
The Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and the Bills are among the teams that indicated they had no interest in signing Vick.

Chris

August 11th, 2009
11:25 am

Full disclosure: The Chrises are different.

braves4ever

August 11th, 2009
11:27 am

Mark, good info, Wren didn’t spend 4 days out in Hot Pearl and Huntsville to see the NASA rockets, you can bet he was getting one last extended look at Jason to make a call up Sept 1st. Did he give you a smirky smile when he answered ? “a September call-up? “We haven’t even really discussed that. Those are some of the most difficult decisions you have to make: When you consider all factors, when is the right time? Is there a comfort level — is he ready to handle it physically and mentally?”
That was a poker answer ,“We haven’t even really discussed that” I believe that about as much as its going to snow tomorrow.

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
11:31 am

We talked on the phone, Braves4Ever. So I don’t know if Frank was smiling or not.

Actually, Frank and I have this little routine. I ask him a theoretical question — not one for which I’m seriously seeking a response — and then I answer it in the way I believe Frank would have answered it. And he tells me if I’ve gotten it right. Most times I do. Although once he did say, “I would have said it with more conviction.”

Smack

August 11th, 2009
11:31 am

To be that young and performing that well at AA, just impressive. An outfield of Shafer-McLouth-Heyward would easily give us the most athletic outfield in the league. The only problem is they are all lefty bats and Schafer still has a lot to prove in my book. Plenty of righty batters that play corner outfield positions that will be available this off season. Let’s hope they get one to play left field for a few seasons.

hmmmm.......

August 11th, 2009
11:35 am

why don’t they move him up to AAA if he’s doing so well?

David Jenkins

August 11th, 2009
11:35 am

Not sure Heyward is on the 40-man; a callup would require a roster move. I’d bet THAT was what has not been discussed.

Zeus

August 11th, 2009
11:35 am

Phillip Wellman manages Mississippi, not Rome as indicated by your article. Randy Ingle is the manager at Rome.

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
11:36 am

There’s really not much difference between Class AA and AAA. And I don’t know that they want to uproot Heyward again. Unless it’s to Atlanta.

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
11:39 am

Whoops, sorry. Thanks for catching that, Zeus. I always write “Rome” when I mean “Mississippi.” Gets really confusing when I’m in Italy.

braves4ever

August 11th, 2009
11:40 am

I have said it before a outfield of McLouth-Shafer-Heyward would be fast and look at the work they could do on the basepaths. You couple that with the starting pitching we have plus our middle infield and the only hits a team would have would be bloopers over the corners and HR’s . Keep Diaz as OF backup. would be fun to watch and would lead the league in defense.

aswingruber

August 11th, 2009
11:41 am

We all saw what happened with Schafer when he started the season at the big league level. Homers on his first at bat, stays on a tear his first couple of weeks. And we all now how that story ended. True, Heyward and Schafer are different players and maybe Heyward is able to make adjustments when big league pitchers figure him out but why even risk the chance that he isn’t able to adjust quickly, and that’s always a possibility. You don’t know how that can hurt a kid’s confidence. And he is still a kid, a couple years removed from high school. Let him mature.

By the way, we’re not looking too bad without him.

StockDog

August 11th, 2009
11:41 am

I’m giddy with anticipation for 2010 and 2011. I think Wren has done a great job in rebuilding the Braves for the long term. It is very interesting on how he included Jordan Schafer with this group.

I only hope that he doesn’t get trade happy if the Braves somehow get close to making the playoffs this year.

TexasBrave

August 11th, 2009
11:42 am

I am sure that they will go the same route with Heyward that they did with Hanson. Send him to Arizona in the off season, Spring Training invite, AAA to start the season and then possible call up in June if needed. It will be very interesting to see what Wren does to the outfield in the winter.

dooley

August 11th, 2009
11:43 am

I think this kid Heyward is very, very good, but the braves DO NOT need to rush this kid like they did with Frenchy. If i’m correct, he was a 2 sport star like frenchy who decided to give up Football. This takes time to acclimate urself to playing 1 sport all the time. He may still have some itch to play football that could derail his advancement.

lee

August 11th, 2009
11:49 am

well if norton is able to wear a braves uniform and sit on the bench, we know that its not too mentally taxing–so lets bring heyward up to see what he can do here for a while!! noone seems to care when norton comes up and strikes out!! i do not think Heyward will trive

lee

August 11th, 2009
11:50 am

ps i mean i think heyward will thrive!!!!

TommyP

August 11th, 2009
11:51 am

Regarding your 11:36, Mark: Tell that to DOB. He got all “high and mighty” with me on his blog that AAA was a bigger step to make before the majors. When I pointed out all of the journeymen we have in Gwinnett, he told me he wasn’t going to argue with me about the issue.

The difference in AA and AAA is the pitching in AA is usually going to throw harder with better stuff. AAA pitchers will have less “stuff” and better control and guile on the mound.

That said, if the Braves are going to call Heyward up, woudn’t they do it on August 31st????????? (playoff roster)

TommyP

August 11th, 2009
11:52 am

dooley: Frenchy and Heyward are completely different examples.

I don’t ever remember reading about Heyward being a Div.I top football recruit.

And talk about different kinds of hitters. Frenchy hacks at everything. See Heyward’s walk/K rates.

dirk1921

August 11th, 2009
11:58 am

A question for PETA Watcher. What in the ***** does your ad nauseum updates on Michael “I only have chihuahuas now” Vick have to do with Mr. Bradley’s pretty decent article. Please, please, go blog at the Vick Haters Anonymous website. My mind wonders: if PETA Watcher was marooned on a desert island with his dog but no food, how long would it be until the dog became his/her dinner?

Greg Norton

August 11th, 2009
12:00 pm

I would be offended by your final sentence in the story. With Infante coming back, I’m just relieved that Diory is still on this team.

DP

August 11th, 2009
12:04 pm

I suspect that if the Braves had lost 3 of 4 to the Dodgers and Diaz and Church weren’t hitting that Heyward would be starting in right tonight for the Braves. I see no reason to start Heyward in AAA last year. The Braves have budget limitations. Clear right field in the offseason for Heyward and spend the money elsewhere. The quicker Heyward gets to the big leagues the quicker he’ll adapt to big league pitching. His walk to strikeout ratio shows that he is not a free swinging windmill like Frenchy or Schafer.

PETA Watcher

August 11th, 2009
12:04 pm

dirk1921@11:58

Do like everyone else and just ignore it or ask Mark to remove it!!!

Mark Bradley

August 11th, 2009
12:06 pm

DOB got all “high and mighty”? Huh.

Sorry if I offended you, Greg. That might make two folks in one morning (Shelden Williams being the other). Which means … I’ve met my quota!

TommyP

August 11th, 2009
12:14 pm

Yep.

So why not a late August call-up of Heyward instead of a September call-up?

ProScout

August 11th, 2009
12:25 pm

Lee- they aren’t going to bring Heyward up to replace Norton in a pinch hitting role. He needs to get as many at bats as possible and sitting the bench to hit 3 times a week is not going to make him better.

DP- can’t rush prospects like this. If he gets called up and fails, then what? Send him back down? Destroy his confidence? Bring him along and eventually give him his shot. If he fails then he becoms a statistic of yet another prospect that fizzled. Rush him to the bigs and he fails and you could have a much bigger problem on your hands