Jason Heyward arrived at spring training in 2010 with all the hype in the world surrounding him. Baseball's most highly touted prospect at only 20 years of age, Heyward took it all in stride and did not shy away from the media. Stories of his mammoth home runs in batting practice, some that even shattered car windshields in the parking lot, only added to the growing legend. Heyward's physical tools combined with his batting eye and baseball acumen made him a can't-miss prospect in the eyes of fans and scouts alike.
Heyward did not disappoint. He launched a monster home run on his first swing in the major leagues on Opening Day, and he became known for his clutch performance in key moments throughout the season. He finished the 2010 season with a .277 average and an astounding .393 OBP to go along with 18 homers, 72 RBI, and 11 steals. As a 20-year-old, his 2010 season put him in the same conversation as legendary Hall-of-Fame players.
However, Heyward took a major step backward in 2011. His average dropped to .227, and he hit 14 homers with 42 RBI and nine steals. Whether it was his bothersome shoulder, the league adjusting to him, or a hole in his swing that caused his down year, no one really knows. One thing is certain, though. The Atlanta Braves need a healthy and productive Jason Heyward.
It may be unfair to put this kind of pressure on a 22-year-old, but there's no way around it. With Chipper Jones at the end of his career, Heyward and Freddie Freeman are the only true potential replacements for Chipper in the third spot in the lineup. While Dan Uggla, Brian McCann, and Martin Prado are great players, none of them profile as a "three-hole" hitter.
Heyward is one of the true difference-makers on the Braves. With his power, speed, and batting eye, very few can match his talent. If the Braves want to be serious contenders in the 2012 season, they need Heyward's production to match his unquestionable talent.
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