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.