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Jason Heyward

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Jason Adenolith Heyward

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[edit] Biographical Information

Outfielder Jason Heyward was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft. He made his debut with the team in 2010.

Heyward led his high school to its first state title as a junior. He impressed scouts with his excellent batting eye and Baseball America praised his "rare blend of strong tools and feel for all phases of the game." He was expected to play right field in the professional ranks.

The Braves selected Heyward with the 14th pick of the 2007 draft. He was signed by scout Brian Bridges and debuted professionally with the GCL Braves on August 16, going 1 for 3 with a solo home run. He hit .302 as a 17-year-old in 12 games for two teams in Rookie ball in his first season.

Jason then hit .316/.341/.473 between the Rome Braves and Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2008. He led all Braves farmhands in batting average. His .323 average ranked third in the South Atlantic League behind Eric Fryer and Jesus Montero. He joined Caleb Gindl and Mike Stanton on the All-Star outfield. He won the SAL Most Outstanding Prospect Award. Baseball America rated him as the league's #2 prospect, right behind Madison Bumgarner and just ahead of Stanton and Jhoulys Chacin. They also called him the best batting prospect and most exciting player in the SAL.

He had a tremendous season in 2009, starting the year with Myrtle Beach, where he hit .296 in 49 games. Promoted to the AA Mississippi Braves of the Southern League, he dominated the circuit, battering opposing pitchers for a .352 average and a .611 slugging percentage over 47 games. He ended the season with a brief taste of AAA ball, getting 4 hits in 11 at-bats with the Gwinnett Braves of the International League. Overall, his batting line was .323/.408/.555 with 25 doubles and 17 home runs in 99 games, earning him the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Award.

Heyward was the star attraction in the Braves' spring training in 2010, earning himself a spot in the team's starting line-up on opening day. With 60 friends and family members watching him at Turner Field, he started his major league career with a bang, blasting a three-run homer off Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs in his first major league plate appearance in the first inning on April 5, as the Braves cruised to an easy 16-5 win. He went 2 for 5 and drove in four runs that day. He stood among the league's RBI leaders during the early parts of the season, in spite of mostly batting 7th in the Braves' batting order. He was named the National League's Rookie of the Month for April, after driving in 19 runs with a .520 slugging percentage. His batting average stood only at .240, however, because of a late-month slump. He repeated as Rookie of the Month in May, after hitting a much more solid .337 for the month, with 19 runs scored, as many RBI, 4 home runs and 16 walks. On June 4, he tied a major league record by striking out 5 times in a 9-inning game. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 28 with a sprained thumb. At the time, he was the second-leading vote-getter among National League outfielders on the All-Star ballot, but missed a chance to play in the game because of the injury. He lost out to San Francisco's Buster Posey in the Rookie of the Year vote, but made the Topps All-Star Rookie team as an outfielder. He finished the year with a batting line of .277/.393/.456 in 142 games, with 29 doubles, 18 homers and 72 RBI. He was among the 2010 NL leaders in OBP (4th after Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder), walks (tied for 4th with Votto at 91), hit-by-pitch (10, tied for 6th with Nyjer Morgan) and errors in right field (6, tied for first with Hunter Pence).

Heyward opened the 2011 season just as he had done in his rookie year, banging out a home run off the Nationals' Livan Hernandez in a 2-0 win on Opening Day, March 31st. He was hitting only .220, but with a team-leading 7 homers, when he underwent an MRI on his right shoulder on May 12th to determine the cause of numbness down his right arm and into his hand. The MRI showed no damage - just inflammation - and he was given a cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation. However, he continued to experience pain and discomfort in his shoulder and was finally placed on the DL on May 22nd. He was batting .098 in May with 15 strikeouts and only 4 hits. He came back in mid-June, but continued to struggle at the plate, and eventually began to lose playing time when the Braves called up rookie Jose Constanza in late July and had him start some games in right field. Heyward was still hitting below .220 at that point. Getting a chance to play on August 23rd with Constanza bothered by a minor injury, Heyward hit his first career grand slam against Casey Coleman of the Chicago Cubs, a blow that proved to be the difference in the Braves' 5-4 win. He finished the season at .227/.319/.389 in 128 games, with 14 homers and 42 RBI, numbers well below those of his rookie season. His OPS+ fell from 131 in 2010 to 93 in 2011. Worse, the Braves missed the postseason on the last day of the season, after a huge collapse that allowed the eventual World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, to catch and pass them for the wild card sport after being well behind at the start of September. He tied Pence and Giancarlo Stanton for the third-most errors (6) by a right fielder in the National League that year.

Heyward had a bounce-back year in 2012, hitting .269/.335/.479 for a 116 OPS+ in 158 games and earning a Gold Glove for his defensive play in right field (it was the first year that the award for outfielders made a distinction between left-, center- and right- fielders). He added 30 doubles, 6 triples and 27 homers, stole 21 bases in 29 tries, scored 93 runs and drove in 82 as one of the Braves' offensive leaders. The Braves reached the postseason as a wild card team, but once again the Cardinals tripped them up: for the first time, there was a second wild card team - the Cardinals, who had finished well behind Atlanta - and they beat the Braves at Turner Field in the first National League Wild Card Game to eliminate the Braves. Heyward went 1 for 5 with a double in the game which the Braves lost, 6-3. For the season, he tied Aaron Hill and Ryan Zimmerman for 10th in runs, was 10th in strikeouts (152) in the National League, led right fielders in putouts (331), tied Pence for the most assists in right field (11) and led right fielders with four double plays (only Alfonso Soriano had more among all NL outfielders).

Heyward started the 2013 season very slowly, going 7 for 58 (.121) over the Braves' first 17 games, although the team was playing extremely well in spite of his minimal contribution. On April 22nd, he underwent an emergency appendectomy while the Braves were visiting Denver, CO. The operation went well and he was released from hospital 48 hours later, with the hope of being back in the line-up at the end of his mandatory 15 days on the disabled list. He later explained that he thought he was fighting a stomach virus and was trying to tough out the pain, until the Atlanta trainers convinced him to check into a hospital. There, his inflamed appendix was discovered just as it was about to burst, forcing him to undergo immediate surgery, but also avoiding what could have been much more serious complications. He returned to the line-up on May 17th, getting two hits and an RBI in an 8-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. On August 21st, he was suffered a broken jaw when hit in the face by a fastball pitched by Jonathon Niese of the New York Mets. He was hitting .253 with 13 homers and 37 RBI in 95 games, a relatively poor performance that was lost in the Braves' otherwise outstanding season.

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