OK fine, you now know the premise of the entire post from the title. The mystery is gone. There’s no build up. Jason Heyward is still 23 years old and he’s played in almost 500 games at this point. That alone is impressive enough, as later this year, Heyward (barring injury) will become either the 50th or 51st player in major league history to play in 550 career games before the end of his age-23 season. And while he seems to be very good at alternating good and bad seasons, Heyward is not living up to the immense hype that comes with being the #1 prospect in baseball, as he was prior to his 2010 rookie season.
Right now, Heyward is the 109th rated outfielder on the ESPN Player Rater so it’s only natural to be tempted to ask where all the fantasy goodness went. And strangely enough, the player right behind him as far as current season value among outfielders is fellow early draft pick Giancarlo Stanton. Where the line gets blurry is when you start to think that his 2011 and 2013 seasons are falling from the same tree. They’re not. In 2011, Heyward had a shoulder injury which affected his swing–causing him to have a severe rise in ground ball rate and drop in line drive rate. That meant his low BABIP made more sense, and wasn’t just the luck dragon biting at his toes.
But this season, Heyward has had none of those issues. He has by far the highest line drive rate of his career at 23.1%. He has the lowest ground ball rate of his career. Yet, Heyward still has a similar BABIP to his 2011 season. This time, it’s much more to do with that old luck dragon. And a lot of it is still buoyed by the disaster that was his early season. At the end of the day on June 1, Heyward was hitting .142/.283/236–but since then, he’s much more in line with the hitter we expected coming into the season. Since June 2 (yes, arbitrary endpoint alert), Heyward is hitting .296/.362/.489 with five homers and a steal. The only number that jumps out from that line is his low stolen base total, but then again, we shouldn’t really have expected more than about 15 or so steals from him coming into the season anyway based on how he slowed down on the base paths as the season went on.
Regardless, the future still looks very bright for the young outfielder. If he just does pretty standard Jason Heyward things, he’ll join a pretty small group of players who have hit 75 homers and 100 doubles between ages 20 and 23. To say that the majority of those players have gone on to have great careers is an understatement. This list is littered with Hall of Famers, but rather than describe it more, I’ll just attached it below:
Going forward, I ranked Heyward as the 22nd most valuable player in dynasty leagues as of the most recent update to my Top 500. That’s ahead of outfielders like Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Yasiel Puig, among others. And while age does have a good amount to do with that, it’s also because of the year-to-year value I expect Heyward to return over the next decade. He may never hit 50 homers in a season like Bautista or Davis, and he may never hit .400 like Puig (regression? hah), but I expect consistent star level performance from him for a long time.
And what will that look like? It could be in the form of a .290 hitter with 25-30 bombs and double-digit steals (he’s a great base runner if given the opportunity to steal more). The power may be down a bit this year, but his HR/FB rate is not going to stay under 10%–that’s way below his career average. The batting average may be down as well, but as I discussed earlier, his BABIP issues can be fixed pretty easily given his batted ball profile. And on top of that, his strikeout rate continues to decrease (and it as a career low in 2013). And that’s all just if he doesn’t take that next step forward and blossom into one of the game’s elite performers. Of course, given his all-around game, he could be considered that already. Well, that and the fact that he’s currently 32nd all time in wins above replacement (B-Ref) among players through their age-23 season. That’s a Hall of Fame trajectory, which he is talented enough to keep up.
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