In case you were trapped in a coal mine or under a rock somewhere and hadn’t heard the news, Justin Upton was traded from Arizona to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday morning. Articles and opinions have wallpapered the internet discussing things like Upton’s home/road splits, his expected performance now that he’s playing side by side with brother B.J., and where he is now ranked amongst baseball’s outfielders in both real life and in fantasy. To me, it seems redundant to perpetuate the conversation. He’s a highly-regarded player with immense talent, is just 25 years old, and is heading to a competitive organization that has shown a commitment to winning. Is he suddenly going to suck? No. So long as he stays healthy, an issue that he has dealt with in his relatively young but seemingly long career, Upton is going to continue to be a highly-regarded player with immense talent, has youth on his side, and is playing for a winning ball club. If you own him in your fantasy league, you’re psyched, and if you need reassurances and your hand held any further on the matter, consider it done. But we’ve got a bigger fish to fry here.
It’s time for me to officially plant my flag and stake my claim on the player whom I believe will have the biggest breakthrough performance this season. He’s the one who you are going to want to make sure you own on each and every one of your fantasy teams. He’s the one whose name you immediately gravitate towards when you open your live scoring page. He’s the one that every other owner in your league will pester you for right up until your league trade deadline passes. That’s right…he’s this year’s Adam Jones.
If you couldn’t tell by last week’s Keeper League Would You Rather as to where I am hitching my wagon this year, the title of today’s post says it all. Especially now with this new era of the Atlanta Braves being ushered in, you want Jason Heyward. By the end of the season, he will be listed amongst the top 10 outfielders in fantasy and will likely adorn the cover of several 2014 fantasy magazines.
So why Heyward? Simple. It’s his time. There’s no denying that he has the raw skills to be an amazing player — possessing both the power and speed found only in some of the game’s most elite group. We saw it when he was first drafted, we saw it when he was sailing through the Braves minor league system and we saw it when his talent forced Bobby Cox to keep him up with the big club in 2010.
He showed a lot that first season. Most impressive was his 14.6-percent walk rate and the veteran-like plate discipline he showed as a 20-year old in his rookie season. Usually when you have a guy with such tremendous power potential, he just wants to tear the cover off the ball and is less likely to show enough patience to take a pitch. Heyward went into it with an intent to learn the big league game. He was content to bide his time and wait for the pitches to come to him. Sure, he struck out a little more than 20-percent of the time. It’s a learning curve. But overall, the results by year end were favorable and you knew he was going to build off of the experience.
Year two was thwarted by a thumb injury he really had no business playing through as much as he did. You can’t fault his competitive edge and desire to remain in the lineup, but obviously, it was a dark cloud that hovered over him throughout the season. His walk rate dropped, the contact he was making was weak and his numbers suffered because of it. It was an aggravating season both for him and his supporters, but he never got too down on himself and looked ahead to the future.
Heyward seemed to walk into 2012 with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Now healthy, he was out to prove that the 2011 season was not a proper representation of who he was and was determined to have a much stronger year. Finishing up with a 20-20 season was more like it, but it did come with a few caveats. First off, he was much more aggressive at the plate. He was swinging at a lot more pitches, both inside and outside the zone. Yes, the results improved in his counting stats, but in reality, his game suffered as his walks dropped, his strikeouts increased and he made less contact overall. Solid numbers, but this wasn’t the same player we saw during the 2010 rookie campaign. And by year end, you could see that he knew it as his frustration built by a statistically weak September that saw his ground ball rate spike to an all-time high. Change was coming.
This is the year that it all comes together for him. He knows that he has to regain the plate discipline that helped him make it as a rookie and combine that with the matured power he was able to put on display last season. As someone who is ultimately patient, an open-minded learner, and has the pure talent of a soon-to-be-great ballplayer, Heyward is ready to put it all together and fully blossom into the amazing player he knows he can be. The fact that the Braves have now gone out and acquired such talent as the Upton brothers to play alongside him is really just icing on the cake. Draft him now and you can thank me later.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org