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.

Struggling Francisco Rodriguez’s job seems to be secure

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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez continued to struggle on Thursday, allowing a run in a 2-1 loss to the Mariners. It’s the sixth time in nine appearances that the right-handed veteran has allowed a run, bumping his ERA up to 6.23. He’s blown two saves and has two losses on the year.

Despite that, it doesn’t sound like Rodriguez’s job as the Tigers’ closer is in any jeopardy, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports. When asked how much of a leash Rodriguez has, manager Brad Ausmus said, “I’ll let you know.” Ausmus continued, “I think people have short memories. This guy did a pretty good job for us last year. Early on, people were worried because the velocity was down. Well, the velocity is back.”

“But at some point,” Ausmus said, “he does have to pitch the way he pitched last year, because he did an outstanding job for us last year and in a city that has been looking for a closer that was consistent for a long time, he was that.”

Rodriguez, 35, doesn’t have the stuff he once did. And the Tigers do appear to have someone who would be a better option in high-leverage situations. Lefty Justin Wilson has thrown 9 2/3 scoreless, hitless innings so far this season with 15 strikeouts and three walks. But for now, it sounds like Rodriguez will be free to work through his issues.

The Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field

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Don’t look now, but the Nationals have the best record in baseball at 16-6. They’re coming off a 10-game road trip in which they went 9-1, including sweeps of the Braves and Mets and a 3-1 series against the Rockies at Coors Field. During that series with the Rockies, the Nationals scored 46 runs, which is nearly as many as the Royals (54) have scored all season long. The Nats scored double-digits in all three wins.

The first game at Coors, an 8-4 loss, saw a three-hit game from Anthony Rendon and a homer from Ryan Zimmerman.

The second game featured Trea Turner hitting for the cycle and driving in seven runs. Daniel Murphy had three hits and five RBI.

The third game saw Turner finish a triple short of the cycle. Bryce Harper had four hits. Zimmerman had three hits including a homer. Murphy homered, too.

The fourth game featured homers from Adam Eaton, Harper, and Murphy. Seven members of the lineup had multiple hits and six had multiple RBI including pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

The series helped the Nationals bring their run differential to +34, the best in the National League. The Yankees are the only team with a better differential at +35.

Indeed, the Nationals are sad to be leaving Coors Field. They return home to open up a three-game set with the ailing Mets on Friday night.