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 Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.
Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”
The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.