Braves think 20-year-old prospect Jason Heyward may be ready for majors

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Last month a Braves source told Craig that the team’s lack of interest in Johnny Damon was largely due to their confidence in stud outfield prospect Jason Heyward being ready for the majors at some point this season.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote more about that scenario today, reporting that “Braves officials have said Heyward will enter spring training with every opportunity to win the right field job” and adding that he’d “put money on Heyward being in right field for the Braves opening series.”
Here’s a quote about the Braves’ plans for Heyward from manager Bobby Cox:

He’s virtually skipping Triple-A if he makes the team. That doesn’t happen often. But in his case we just feel that he should, if he’s going to come to spring training, be given a crack at it.

O’Brien also passed along this interesting tidbit: During the past decade Rocco Baldelli is the only position player drafted out of high school to make an Opening Day roster and play at least 30 games in the majors with fewer than 200 at-bats above Single-A. Heyward has 173 at-bats above Single-A and was a 2007 first-round pick out of Henry County high school in Georgia, so Baldelli may soon have some company.
Heyward is only 20 years old, but he’s already 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, was named Minor League Player of the Year last season, and ranks as the No. 1 prospect in baseball on just about every prominent list. As for whether he’ll be better than Damon in 2010 … that remains to be seen, but Baseball Think Factory‘s fantastic projection system has Heyward hitting .275/.341/.429 this season compared to .272/.350/.436 for Damon.
Very similar production and Heyward is significantly better defensively, not to mention a whole lot cheaper and with much more upside. Incidentally, if Heyward can match that projected .770 OPS while playing regularly for the Braves it would be the third-best OPS by a 20-year-old outfielder in the past 40 years behind only Ken Griffey Jr. at .847 in 1990 and Justin Upton at .816 in 2008.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.