Heyward’s struggles are becoming more concerning
It’s easy to understand why fans have grown impatient with Jason Heyward as he has spent this season battling a sore right shoulder and producing disappointing offensive results. Like media members, they are a fickle bunch that is influenced by the many highs and lows a baseball season brings.
But over the past week, opposing scouts have also started to question why Heyward has struggled so much this year.
After watching Friday night’s game against the Nationals, an American League scout familiar with the Braves returned to Turner Field Saturday and essentially described Heyward’s swing as “messed up.”
Before any of you pin this on hitting coach Larry Parrish, it should be noted that Heyward still works with C.J. Stewart, a former member of the Cubs’ organization who has served as the young outfielder’s hitting coach dating back to his high school days.
Heyward leans on Stewart the same way Brian McCann and Chipper Jones have when they have gone to their fathers seeking help with their swing.
But for now, the difference is that Jones and McCann gained quick results when they went outside the organization looking for help.
One of the National League scouts covering this week’s series against the Rockies questioned why Heyward has been unable or unwilling to make adjustments to make him less susceptible to pitches on the inside portion of the plate.
As many of you will remember scouts were questioning Heyward’s ability to cover the inside portion of the plate during the early weeks of this season. Nearly three months later, there has not been any noticeable sign of improvement.
Before removing himself from Monday night’s lineup with a bruised left foot, Heyward was hitting .224 with a .319 on-base percentage and .397 slugging percentage. Since missing nearly a month because of his shoulder, he has hit .237 with a .321 on-base percentage and .387 slugging percentage.
It’s quite obvious Heyward has not been the same destructive force he was when he hit .292 with 10 homers and a .988 OPS in the first 47 games of his career. In the 167 games he has played since then, he has batted .252 with 17 homers and a .759 OPS.
As Freddie Freeman has flourished over the past month, there have been even more people comparing Heyward and Freeman to the Jeff Francoeur/McCann duo that entered the Braves’ clubhouse in 2005.
Francoeur arrived as the can’t miss prospect and McCann seemed to be in his shadow. Six years later, McCann is a six-time All-Star and Francoeur is playing for his fourth team in a span of two calendar years.
I’ll admit I’ve spent time over the past couple months making this comparison numerous times in conversations with friends and colleagues. Quite honestly, it’s easy to become very impressed with the way Freeman has shown power to all fields and the ability to make adjustments at a young age.
It also has to do with the fact that like McCann fed off the teachings of Chipper Jones, Freeman has been like a sponge whenever Eric Hinske and the club’s other veterans have offered advice.
But with all of this being said, it’s unfair to label either of these 21-year-old players and even hint that their career paths have already been determined.
Freeman is seemingly bound to encounter some more struggles during his rookie season and Heyward is obviously quite capable of living up to the tremendous promise he possessed last year.
With Heyward struggles adding to their offensive concerns in the outfield, the Braves have shown some interest in Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, who could be utilized as a center fielder or right fielder. (Click here to see the entry posted about Beltran in today’s MLB.com Trade Deadline blog.)
If Beltran isn’t the answer, the Braves could also find a right-handed outfielder who could fill a platoon role with Heyward, who has hit just .173 against left-handed pitchers this year.
Some members of the Braves organization have also suggested that it might be best to send Heyward back to the Minors, where he could attempt to fix his swing and make the necessary adjustments in a rather stress-free environment.
It seems quite drastic given Heyward is just one year removed from being elected to start an All-Star Game at the ripe age of 20. But like 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan, Heyward has found that a satisfying rookie season provides no guarantees.
The Marlins sent Coghlan to the Minors to help him battle through left knee discomfort and essentially because he needed to be demoted.
It might be debatable whether Heyward has reached that point yet. But as these next couple months and years elapse the Braves are certainly hoping to hear fewer comparisons between Heyward and Francoeur.
ODDS AND ENDS: There was at least one Tigers’ scout in attendance to watch Derek Lowe’s start against the Rockies last night… Whatever interest the Braves might have had in some of the Rockies’ relievers no longer seems to exist. But they will continue to search the market in hopes of gaining a right-handed reliever who could lessen the work loads of Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty.