Note: This article will appear on RotoInfo.com.
Every year there is a player on the major league baseball horizon that has fans, scouts, managers and fantasy players falling our of their seats.
Last year it was Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters along with Rays pitcher David Price. Before that it was Evan Longoria, Clay Buchholz, Joba Chamberlain, Jay Bruce … the list goes on.
And now we have Jason Heyward.
The reviews are coming in and the consensus is that Heyward will be some approximation between Hank Aaron and Darryl Strawberry (without the nasty cocaine habit).
For a more pertinent comparison, let’s look at Strawberry as opposed to Aaron. Strawberry broke into the big leagues with the Mets in 1983 at the age of 21 and had 473 plate appearances with a .257 average, .336 on-base percentage, 63 runs, 74 RBI and 26 home runs in 122 games.
A little more recent history shows that Longoria, young and similarly touted to Heyward and Strawberry, put up a .272 average, .343 on-base percentage, 67 runs, 85 RBI and 27 home runs in 508 plate appearances, also in 122 games.
What does this mean for Heyward? If the hype is to be believed, he is a step above what Strawberry and Longoria were when they came out. He has a physical gifts of nature with patience at the plate patience that could approach Barry Bonds with the (later years Bonds) power to go with it.
Braves manager Bobby Cox is so excited to have Heyward around for his final season on the bench that Atlanta is ignoring the recognized practices of holding uber-prospects back in the minors to forestall their arbitration clocks. So, unlike Strawberry or Longoria, Heyward is likely to eclipse 122 games played and 500 plate appearances, barring injury.
Let’s say that he gets around 650 plate appearances. In each of their first full seasons Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols were at that level and had 28 and 37 home runs, respectively.
The comparisons never end. Yet, if the sabermetric community, which values historical comparison as a means of quantifiable projection, the comparisons are the most important factor there is to find out what exactly can be expected of Heyward this season. An average between .275 and .290, on-base of .340 to .370 with 80 to 90 RBI and 27 to 35 home runs?
Very reasonable numbers to expect from a first year pro, no matter how much validated hype that surrounds him. But, where does that leave him in terms of fantasy value?
If you were in an early bird league, you probably could have snagged Heyward after the on the waiver wire or at the very end of the draft. A couple of months of media hype, comparisons and a guaranteed roster spot later, Heyward is going around 144th over at ESPN’s average draft position and will cost between $12 to $15 at auction. That is probably what he is worth at this point though he has the potential to jump to elite status if he trends more to the Pujols side of rookie performance as opposed to Longoria/Fielder model.
It is doubtful that the Braves will go slowly with Heyward the way the Diamondbacks have done with Justin Upton. Really, this is the team that brought up Jordan Schafer after a strong spring last year to watch him have a great first game before dive bombing the next 49 games and being sent back to the minors.
That will not happen with Heyward.
Schafer was a flash in the Spring Training pan that had not performed exceptionally well at Class AA Mississippi in 2008 (.269 average, .378 on-base, 10 home runs and 51 RBI) before having a great spring in 2009 to make team. There was some buzz (not enough to call hype) and I will admit that I took him with the last pick of my draft in an extremely deep league before dumping him in the middle of April.
Heyward is more physically mature than Schafer or Upton were at a similar age and seems to have the mental make up that the both the Upton brothers have lacked early in their careers. Heyward will probably get the requisite plate appearances that will make him a viable fantasy option.
Is it worth jumping up in your draft to get him at say, the 120th pick? Probably not, if you trust the projections. Better value picks at this point might be some of the guys with track records where you know they won’t fall off a cliff and destroy your outfield. Think players like Torii Hunter, Nick Markakis, Brad Hawpe (in leagues that have absolute no defensive metrics) who should be available at the time you are thinking about taking Heyward. If you have already drafted a couple solid outfielders from the first and second tiers on the production ladder, take Heyward. If you are looking for second outfield production from him, you might end up disappointed.
This year at least.
Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Baseball Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.