Currently, Yahoo! rates Jason Heyward as the 28th best fantasy outfielder. To me, that looks light, and as a huge Heyward fan I am doing my best in putting that out there without bias.
Last year was certainly an unproductive fantasy season from Heyward. He barely hit double digit home runs, did little in the way of runs and RBI, and his average/on base percentage were solid but not world-beating. Even with that poor year, he did manage to rank 28th among all outfielders. In terms of a full healthy season, last year looked like the floor for the new Cardinal right fielder.
The only St. Louis Cardinal hitter with a higher ZiPS projected wOBA than Jason Heywad is Matt Holliday. ZiPS has Heyward at .269/.348/.424 with 16 home runs and 14 steals. Additionally, Steamer has Heyward at .270/.355/.446 with 20 homers and 13 steals. If he is able to hit for that type of power, as he has in each year besides last year (on a plate appearance per home run rate), he should easily score more than 100 runs atop the Cardinal lineup. While even as an isolated player I believe Heyward is being under-drafted due to his appearance among most fans as a “bust” or close to it as a prospect, the fact that he will be hitting atop what should be a potent and balanced lineup in a contract year at age-25 is reason enough to roll the dice with Heyward earlier than most.
The concern around Heyward, in my estimation, is not a repeat of his 2014 season. I am rather confident that if he is able to keep his walk rate at or above 10% and keep his strikeout rate in check as he has the past two seasons that he will produce at a much higher rate than he did last year.
The concern to me is injuries and lack of production against left-handed pitching. While his defense is quality enough to warrant playing every day regardless of the handedness of the opposing starter, the Cardinals may be looking to avoid having a .169/.252/.225 at the top of the lineup against lefties. With prospects Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty as potential platoon options for both Heyward and Jay, he will have to prove to the Cardinal coaching staff that he is worthy of playing every day – either by virtue of playing top tier defense on a daily basis or by improving his skills against lefties.
However, those two concerns seem to be baked into his current price. With Heyward being a former number one prospect in all of baseball, being 25-years-old, hitting at the top of a quality lineup, and having three 120 wRC+ seasons already, the potential of Heyward having a breakout is well worth the risk of drafting him a bit earlier than average and him getting injured, being platooned, or performing poorly.
I like the odds of drafting Heyward with the expectation that he produces at or close to his ZiPS and Steamer projections, along with the potential for an outright breakout with 100+ runs and a 20-20 season. There just are not that many players with that type of upside and floor that can be had near his average draft position.
Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.