For the second straight Opening Day, Jason Heyward homered in his first at-bat Thursday, drilling a Livan Hernandez offering barely over the wall in right field in the second inning.
As it turned out, it was the Braves’ second and final run of the day. Heyward received just two more plate appearances, walking in one of them. Fortunately, Derek Lowe was sharp and the bullpen was stellar, so Atlanta won 2-0 anyway.
But as we’ve been wondering all spring, what exactly is Jason Heyward doing batting sixth?
New Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made it clear over the winter that he wanted to stick Heyward there as long as Chipper Jones was healthy enough to occupy the third spot. And Heyward hitting a ridiculous .356/.508/.511 in 45 at-bats this spring didn’t change his mind.
The 21-year-old Heyward is well on his way to becoming one of baseball’s best hitters. He may get there this year. He hit .297/.393/.456 as a rookie. Only three National Leaguers had higher on-base percentages (Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder).
Of the 15 National Leaguers to get on base at least 37 percent of the time last year, Heyward is the only one currently hitting below the cleanup spot in the lineup. They’re the cream of the crop. So likely is Heyward. However, Gonzalez apparently would prefer Heyward get one fewer at-bat than Nate McLouth every other game.
And that’s just crazy. Sure, one wants Heyward to drive in runs, too, but it’s not like he wouldn’t have chances batting second behind Martin Prado. And putting him there would result in more RBI chances for Jones and Brian McCann. Three of Chipper’s four at-bats today came with none on and two outs. That probably wouldn’t have been the case had Heyward been batting in front of him.
In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.
Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.
He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.
Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.
Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.
At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.
Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.
Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.
He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.
Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!
Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.
This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.
If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.