Jason Heyward was naturally a popular topic of discussion throughout the SABR convention in Atlanta last week and the 20-year-old rookie snapped a 31-game homerless streak last night.
Heyward has come back down to earth considerably after posting a 1.000 OPS through mid-May, hitting just .250 with modest power since then while playing through and then spending time on the disabled list with a thumb injury.
His season totals no longer put him in company like Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Alex Rodriguez, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, and Mickey Mantle, but an .827 OPS is still pretty damn impressive for a 20-year-old and watching him in person twice at Turner Field while attending the convention it’s tough not to see Heyward developing into a superstar.
His rookie production has been great, he certainly looks the part, and he seems to do even little things well. It may sound silly, but I was impressed by Heyward setting up properly under a fly ball in the gap to fire a strike to the cutoff man and prevent a runner from tagging up. He’s not only supremely talented and a physical specimen, he’s smart and fundamentally sound.
Here’s where Heyward’s current adjusted OPS+ of 122 stacks up with the best 20-year-old hitters in baseball history who qualified for the batting title:
Ty Cobb 167 Frank Robinson 142
Mel Ott 165 Ken Griffey Jr. 135
Al Kaline 162 Sherry Magee 134
Mickey Mantle 162 Tony Conigliaro 133
Alex Rodriguez 160 Vada Pinson 128
Ted Williams 160 Orlando Cepeda 125
Rogers Hornsby 150 JASON HEYWARD 122
Jimmie Foxx 148 Stuffy McInnis 121
Dick Hoblitzell 143 Willie Mays 120
Being one of just 18 players in baseball history to finish their age-20 season with an OPS+ above 120 would be impressive enough, but I suspect Heyward’s numbers would look even better if not for slumping through the thumb problems.
The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.
Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).
A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.
The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:
A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.