ST. LOUIS -- New addition Jason Heyward is pegged to fix several Cardinal problems in 2015. He’s expected to bring Gold Glove defense to a position that was a major question mark, he’s earmarked to add more power to a Cardinal lineup that badly needed it last season and he’s considered to be the five-tool franchise candidate the Birds are looking to build around in their next phase.
He spent a major chunk of 2014 in unfamiliar territory, batting leadoff in Atlanta. From the top of the order, he hit .270 with 10 homers and 47 runs scored while posting a .343 OBP.
So what to expect in 2015?
If it goes well
Heyward returns to a place of comfort and his numbers respond. That may be second, fourth, fifth or elsewhere, but it likely won’t be leadoff. He told us this winter he was developed at as a middle-of-the-order bat, and the Cardinals respond by putting him there.
Able to utilize the approach he enjoys, Heyward posts a home run total north of 20 again. His average floats around .275 while he gets on base enough to steal 20 bags and score 70 times. Most importantly, he drives in runs like he did in 2012, aiding the existing big bats and helping to keep pitchers on edge, along with the rest of the Redbirds.
Another Gold Glove punctuates his sixth season as he finds the first truly great year of his young career. The Cardinals strike early, inking Heyward to a long-term deal before the price tag skyrockets.
If it doesn’t
Inconsistency rules the day. Heyward’s substantial skillset manifests at different times and never in a cohesive fashion. His power is sparse, and long stretches of bad luck and poor production keep his average from ever gaining momentum. Instead of another thumper, the Cardinals get a .260 average and 12 home runs.
Lefties continue to flummox his bat, exacerbating an existing problem in the lineup. Matheny combats this with a mix-and-match approach in the outfield, neutralizing the benefits of Heyward’s defense and speed. Sports pundits hypothesize Randal Grichuk could have done the same thing cheaply if given the same amount of at bats.
Heyward is perhaps the toughest player to predict on the roster at this point. His all-around ability is certainly impressive, but the disparity between his numbers - especially his power numbers - makes prognostication based on his existing work a tough proposition.
He’ll certainly make the Cardinal outfield a frustrating place for hitters and baserunners, but a strong offensive campaign from the 25-year-old could move the needle far more.
One has to think a new setting and a team that has ring-wearing veterans would lessen the pressure on the young star. Additionally, the Cardinals have existing leadoff candidates as well as big-swingers. Heyward is expected to improve a lot of things, but he’s not on an island with his speed or power. That makes things easier, especially when the team has a track record of success and isn’t looking for a savior.
With that in mind, I think Heyward shines. Less pressure and more freedom produces a year that synthesizes all his gifts and he gives the Birds a preview of a franchise outfielder.