Expect big things from Heyward and the Braves

April 04, 2010|By Phil Rogers On baseball

Remember one thing about those of us on the other side of the keyboard. We are suckers for a good story.

That doesn't mean "trying to sell newspapers" or "trying to make a name" for myself or any of the complaints that make the rounds about the decisions that go into what to put in a piece and what to leave out. It would be great to instinctively know about the staying power of a story. But the best we can do is to make an honest evaluation whenever we sit down at a keyboard.

Still, caveat emptor is a wise policy in regards to the glowing reviews of the Braves and their unusually polished prospect, the powerful Jason Heyward.

I'm picking the Braves to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and for Heyward to outshine highly advertised pitching prospects Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman to be the National League Rookie of the Year.

These days, both thoughts qualify as conventional wisdom. Both could happen easily.

Heyward is a tremendously good looking hitter - a 6-foot-4, 220-pound package of muscle with a control tower that seems to give him a heightened ability to know when to swing and when to take a pitch. He will play right field nearly every day.

The 14th pick overall in the 2007 draft from Henry County High in McDonough, Ga., Heyward has played only 238 minor league games, hitting .318 with only 33 more strikeouts than walks.

His final Grapefruit League totals weren't eye-popping (.305-1-5 in 59 at-bats), but he never looked the part of a scared rookie. If anything, he flashed the ability to intimidate pitchers just by stepping into the batter's box, and his remarkable plate discipline showed as he had 10 walks against 11 strikeouts.

"He has no weakness," said someone who watched him all spring.

Heyward will hit alongside Chipper Jones, theoretically giving the Braves two reliable run producers, and Melky Cabrera adds a winning presence in the outfield. Yet it's still an underwhelming lineup. The Braves shouldn't need to score a ton of runs to win, however, as the rotation containing Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens,Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Kenshin Kawakami is the deepest in the National League and could be one of the best in the majors.

But the question I have is whether the Braves would be creating as much buzz this spring if their manager was Fredi Gonzalez (as it could be next spring), not Bobby Cox. The Braves fixture has announced he's retiring at season's end, and it would make a terrific story if he went out a winner.

Cox has critics who think he should have gotten more than one World Series title out of a run of 14 consecutive playoff appearances. But there aren't many people who don't like him.

The Braves haven't reached the playoffs since 2005. It would be great to see them back once again so Cox can take a fitting bow.

One last time: There's little chance David Ortiz will be back with the Red Sox in 2011, as cool logic, not sentiment, is behind general manager Theo Epstein's decision-making. The club holds a $12.5 million option to keep Big Papi one more season, but only a monster 2010 would pressure the club into picking it up.

Ortiz started the spring in a 1-for-19 rut but then went 13-for-41 with three homers. He needs to reverse a trend in which his batting average has dropped from .332 in 2007 to .264 in '08 and .238 last season, his worst performance since 2001 with the Twins.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan praises Ortiz, 34, for getting himself in better shape and making mechanical adjustments that were discussed in September.

"His middle 10-15 at-bats in spring training were unbelievable," Magadan told the Boston Globe. "He kind of got away from it for a few days, but … I've seen good signs from David all spring."

Greed watch: It's always interesting to check the barnstorming schedules the last weekend of spring training. Teams sacrifice some rest/preparation time for season openers to pick up money by playing unnecessary exhibition games, sometimes in odd places.

This refers to games where major league teams play each other, not their minor league affiliates, as trips to the affiliates are a necessary evil. For instance, Marlins players might grumble but they more or less had to stop in Jacksonville, Fla., and Greensboro, N.C., on the way to Citi Field for Monday's season opener. However, the Mariners' game in San Francisco on Sunday, before Monday's opener in Oakland, is all about the Benjamins.

The Giants practically were panhandling on their way out of Scottsdale. They went home for games against the A's on Friday and Saturday, then were to play the Mariners on Sunday before starting the season Monday in Houston. They scheduled themselves to play 20 consecutive days before an off day Thursday before Friday's official home opener.

The Red Sox left Florida after a Friday afternoon game but stopped in Washington for a game against the Nationals before Sunday night's opener against the Yankees.

The last word: "Trading Cliff Lee was the stupidest thing they've ever done, and they didn't have to. … It was a stupid, stupid move. They could've had a World Series berth locked up right now with those two guys at the top of their rotation." - Curt Schilling on the Phillies trading Lee after adding Roy Halladay.

Phil Rogers covers baseball for the Chicago Tribune.

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