For Braves fans going into the 2010 season, there was a buzz in the air about a kid in right field that was going to become the next face of the organization with Chipper Jones’ career coming to a close. Jason Heyward didn’t disappoint either. His first at bat in the majors, on opening day, versus the Chicago Cubs, J-Hey his a shot over the right field wall for his first big league homer. It was the beginning of an outstanding season that saw him voted as an all-star starter, but he couldn’t participate because of an injury. When 2011 rolled around, people expected his numbers to improve even more because he had a year under his belt. Well, that didn’t exactly happen.
2011 was a miserable year for the J-Hey kid. His numbers were poor and his he was plagued by lingering injuries all season. He was even benched by manager Frediot for a journeyman minor leaguer, Jose Constanza. The irony in the benching is Fredi was saying that Heyward needed to work out his swing and get it straightened out, but wasn’t giving him at bats to do it. So 2011 ended up being a wash for him. So how can Heyward rebound from 2011 and have a successful 2012 campaign?
The first thing has already been done, and that is for the Braves to fire Larry Parrish and bring in a good hitting coach in Greg Walker. Heyward has already begun his training and working with Walker on his stroke and trying to get back to his 2010 form. He’s also went on a diet and weight training program, has dropped 20 pounds, and has toned up. All of these are positive signs, but what is the one thing that Heyward has to do to improve his 2012 season? Work on his ground ball percentages. Heyward was seventh in all of baseball last year in gb%. Ironically, the others in the top 10 average six foot and 190 pounds. Heyward stands 6’4 and around 240 pounds. With his body and frame, he should not be hitting grounders. That’s what smaller, speedy guys do.
The next thing Heyward needs to do is be more patient. His walk rate was nearly cut in half between 2010 and 2011, a lot of that was because he was swinging at bad pitches. He was swinging at them, of course, because he was seeing a lot more of them. If he can improve his walk rate, he’s guaranteed to see more pitches that are in his zone, and therefore will be easier for him to make contact with.
A third thing, and probably the last I’ll mention for the sake of trying to keep this short, is changing up his positioning in the batter’s box. The first thing that he needs to do is move in on the plate more. He stands further back than most hitters in baseball, and when he gets outside pitches, he’s usually hitting them off the end of the bat, resulting is slow grounders. Moving in on the plate will give him more reach for outside pitches. Many people have argued that this will hurt him on inside pitches, but Heyward has a slightly open stance that will allow him to open up easier than most and pull an inside pitch.
With these changes, I think not only will you see J-Hey meet his 2010 numbers, but I think he’ll blow past them and put up one of the best seasons of all Braves. The key to all of this is him staying confident and staying healthy. I can’t wait to see how Greg Walker works on him and I hope he addresses these few issues.