It was a crucial season at the plate for Jason Heyward. After turning in an extremely promising rookie season, Heyward slumped badly as a sophomore. Though he was just age-22, Heyward had a lot of pressure on him heading into his third season. He did not disappoint. Heyward hit .269/.335/.479 in 651 plate appearances with the Atlanta Braves, slugging 27 home runs and stealing 21 bases. He managed to re-establish himself as one of the best young players in the game. At an age where some prospects are still in the minors, Heyward has already managed to churn out two highly productive major league seasons. Though he took a slight detour, his career to stardom is back on track.
When sorting by career wOBA among outfielders, Heyward finds himself with nearly the same offensive value as Andruw Jones, another great young outfielder. But Jones isn’t a perfect comparison for Heyward, as he didn’t walk as much, and showed more power and speed over this period. Still, there are plenty of promising players on that list that put up similar wOBAs at the same age. There are, however, two other players that produced slightly better wOBAs than Heyward, but showed almost identical skills.
*It’s important to note that Strawberry did not play in the majors during his age-20 season, but since we are using wOBA, which is not a counting stat, it shouldn’t matter much for the purpose of the comparison.
With the exception of a lower slugging percentage, those three players are incredibly similar. And if you’re of the belief that most of Heyward’s sophomore struggles were the result of a shoulder injury, it’s not hard to see how Heyward could have ended up even with, or better than, both Upton and Strawberry.
Being in the company of those two players is high praise, and it makes things look even better for Heyward next year. At age-23, both Upton and Strawberry showed that there was still some improvement in their hitting ability. Upton contended for the National League MVP, hitting .289/.369/.529, with a .385 wOBA. The .385 wOBA wasn’t necessarily a breakout for Upton, as he posted the same number during his age-21 season, but it was an improvement from his sophomore slump. Though Strawberry was limited to just 111 games, he broke out in a big way. Strawberry hit .277/.389/.557 during his age-23 season.
Using two players to show that Heyward will definitely improve is far from a large sample, but it’s certainly a reason for optimism. Heyward may be young, but he’s already emerged as one of the best players in the game. And the best part is, as Upton and Strawberry have shown, there’s reason to believe that the best is yet to come. Heyward will likely command a high pick in most fantasy leagues next season. If he’s anything like Upton or Strawberry, he’ll be well worth the investment.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.