Strawberry joins Heyward's fan club
Outfield great likes Braves prospect's tools, confidence
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- As Jason Heyward's legend has grown, many figures in the baseball world have attempted to draw comparisons to some of the game's greatest players. Quite often, these discussions have led to the mention of Darryl Strawberry, the eight-time All-Star who burst on the Major League scene 27 years ago with some of the same fanfare that is currently following Heyward.
After getting his first opportunity to watch Heyward play during the Mets' 4-2 win over the Braves at Tradition Field on Tuesday, Strawberry did not make any specific comparisons. But the former outfield great did take advantage of the opportunity to send some praise in the direction of this highly regarded prospect who seems destined to be in the Majors in the very near future.
"He has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself," Strawberry said. "That's a big part of this game. If you believe in yourself, you can excel. He has a good idea about what the game is all about. He's going to go through some highs and lows. That's just what the game is all about for everybody. If he stays focused and plays hard, he will be very special."
Strawberry's comments came after Heyward enjoyed a productive Grapefruit League season debut that included much more than what Atlanta manager Bobby Cox described as "the hardest-hit single you'll ever see in your life." Heyward, who has been tabbed by MLB.com and other media outlets as the game's best prospect, also displayed good plate discipline with a pair of walks, and he showed his instinctive baserunning skills when he easily stole third base in the third inning.
In the process, Heyward displayed some of the advanced intangibles that led the Braves to confidently express their belief that he has a strong possibility of serving as their Opening Day right fielder next month at the ripe age of 20.
"That's why you say, 'Let's get this guy in camp to make the team,' because he does those things," Cox said. "He plays solid in the outfield. He's got a solid arm. He's a solid runner. You know he's going to hit."
When asked to evaluate his first game of this year's exhibition season, Heyward further showed his advanced knowledge of the game when he said that he was most pleased with his first-inning at-bat against Mets starter Nelson Figueroa, who got ahead by a 1-2 count, but then walked the 6-foot-5, 245-pound outfielder.
During this plate appearance, Heyward displayed the kind of patience you might not expect from a young player who has had just 173 at-bats above the Class A level. In addition, he displayed his bat control while fouling off an offspeed pitch that seemingly fooled him initially, and by sitting on a 3-2 curveball.
"That's just pure confidence," said Strawberry, who is in Mets camp as a special instructor. "That's something you can't teach. He's a kid that looks like he already has that."
After lacing his third-inning single through the right side, Heyward positioned himself to display his baserunning skills with an easy steal of third base. Along with speed, he showed Cox and the other members of Atlanta's coaching staff that he understands some of the finer points of the game.
With one out and Yunel Escobar at the plate, Heyward's decision to swipe third base was prompted by his belief that he was improving the odds that the Braves shortstop would drive him home.
"It makes the game easier on your team," Heyward said. "If somebody steals third base and [the other team doesn't] make the play, that's big. That's an opportunity to score. A big part of the game is doing the little things."
When asked what Heyward would have to do to make the big league club out of camp, Chipper Jones said the young phenom would have to prove that he understands some of those finer points of the game.
One game into this year's exhibition season, Heyward has provided further reason to believe he's capable of doing this -- and many other great things -- as his career progresses.
"He plays the game the right way," Strawberry said. "It looks like he has a chance to really be something special in the game of baseball if he just doesn't get too high or too low."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.