General : : Professional
Friday, March 05, 2010

Heyward was 14 when he caught our eye

Jim Ecker        
Jason Heyward began coming to Perfect Game’s premier events when he was just 14 years old. Even then, our scouts were very impressed with his immense talent and potential. Our admiration continued to grow over the years, and now he’s considered the top prospect in the major leagues.

Without bragging too much, we saw it coming.

“He has an outstanding athletic body at 6-0, 170 with easy actions and about as much projectability as you’re going to see on a 14-year-old,” David Rawnsley, PG’s National Director of Scouting, wrote after seeing Heyward at the 2004 Underclass National Showcase. “Don’t be surprised when Heyward ends up at 6-4, 210.”

Heyward, now 20, met that projection and kept growing. He’s now 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, more graceful than ever as he bids to stick with the Atlanta Braves this season. He’s considered the No.1 in the big leagues by many observers, slightly ahead of Washington pitcher Stephen Strasburg on most lists.

It’s fun to look back and see what we thought about major leaguers when they were just kids. Heyward hasn’t reached the big leagues yet, but Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox will be taking a serious look at Heyward this spring, just as we’ve been taking a serious look at him for six years.

Heyward attended 17 Perfect Game events from 2004 through 2006 and helped the East Cobb Astros win several WWBA titles, so we’ve had a good look over the years. He was initially a first baseman and pitcher, but settled in the outfield to take advantage of his natural gifts. Our scouts saw that coming, too.

“There’s no reason physically that he couldn’t end up playing in the outfield and being an outstanding defender,” Rawnsley predicted six years ago after seeing him at the Underclass National Showcase in 2004. “We’d be surprised if Heyward doesn’t emerge as one of the elite hitting prospects in his class in a couple of years.”

That was a good call, too. Heyward been an elite hitter throughout his minor league career.

Atlanta tabbed Heyward in the first round of the 2007 draft after he graduated from high school and gave him a $1.7 million contract as the 14th pick overall. He hit .302 in the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League that summer when he was just 17 (for most of the season), climbed to .316 in Class A ball in 2008, then hit .323 with 17 homers in Double-A and Triple-A in 2009 when he was just 19 years old.

Heyward, from McDonough, Ga., had grown to 6-2, 198 when he participated at the National Underclass Showcase in December of 2004. “He’s only 15,” our scouts noted, “but he’s probably getting tired of the Fred McGriff comparisons already, because it’s unmistakable to any baseball person that is who Heyward resembles. He has a long and smooth left-handed swing and the ball jumps off his bat on contact. He projects big-time power in the future.”

McGriff had big-time power himself, slugging 493 homers during his major league career as a five-time all-star. McGriff spent part of his career in Atlanta with the Braves, so those comparisons might surface again this year.

Heyward was still only 15 when he starred at the Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase in 2005. “There isn’t much he can’t do,” we wrote, “and he is a great kid as well.”

Heyward was 16 when he came to our National Showcase in 2006. He’d grown some more by then.

“Heyward has a strong, athletic build on a 6-4, 220 frame that is going to continue to get bigger and stronger. Just call it a Major League body,” we wrote in our scouting report.

“Heyward steps to the plate and there is anticipation that he could do something big each time up, one of only a handful of players that provide that type of anticipation,” we said. “His contact point is exceptional, with his body balanced and behind the ball, completely leveraged. His hands are lively and fast. To suggest that Heyward could be a 40-plus homer and .300-plus hitter is certainly not out of the question at the MLB level.”

Heyward was a natural choice to play in the Aflac All-American game in 2006, where he continued to impress everyone who watched him play.

“Heyward is undoubtedly the most intimidating presence in the 2007 Class,” we wrote, referring to the 2007 Class of high school seniors-to-be. “A graceful, long-striding runner with above-average speed that turns routine doubles into triples.”
Heyward stole four bases in the 2006 Aflac, demonstrating his speed and base-running ability.

He also participated in the Southeast Top Prospect Showcase in 2006, garnering more accolades.

“Heyward has a big league body right now, with tall, angular features and a very broad frame,” we wrote. “Someone made a comparison to Ryan Howard at the Showcase and that seemed like a good comparison.”

First McGriff, then Howard, the slugging first baseman for the Phillies who has hit at least 45 homers in each of the last four seasons. We’ve put Heyward in some fancy company over the years, but he’s deserved it.

“Heyward is at the stage of development right now where he can flash his prodigious power and bat speed, but most of his solid contact is in the form of hard line drives, some of which just happen to carry a long way,” we continued after watching him at the 2006 Southeast Top Showcase. “He’s a very aggressive and very instinctual base runner. Heyward’s enjoyment/enthusiasm on the field is obvious. He has the chance to be a very high draft pick next June.”

We had him ranked No.2 in the country, which in retrospect looks pretty good.
Rawnsley also has compared Heyward to Willie “Stretch” McCovey, the tall, lanky left-handed slugger who belted 521 homers in the major leagues.

McGriff? Howard? McCovey? Some day, we might be comparing a young player to Jason Heyward himself.

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