The Resurgence of Jason Heyward: by Jason McLaughlin
LOS ANGELES, CA – Veteran Jason Heyward, has gotten off to a hot start in 2023 with his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 5-time Gold Glove winner, 1x All-Star, and 2016 World Series champion, has been inconsistent ever since he signed an eight-year $184 million contract with the Cubs in 2016. Heyward seemed to have figured it out offensively in 2019 when he hit 21 Homeruns, tallied 62 RBIs, and scored 78 runs. His success carried over into the shortened COVID season when he slugged a career high .456 which consisted of 14 extra base hits in 50 games including 6 Homeruns.
Unfortunately, Heyward’s production dropped in 2021 when he posted a slash line of .214/.280/.347 which were all well below his 162 game averages in their respective categories. By 2022 the Cubs released Heyward after just 48 games where he posted career lows in all major categories at .204/.278/.277.
The chances of Heyward continuing his Major League career looked slim, but the Dodgers took a chance when they issued him a minor league contract that cut his pay down to a league minimum $720,000. After a solid spring training Heyward made the Major League roster and has played 3 games so far in RF. The risk has paid off – Heyward is hitting .333/.300/.1000 with two homers in his last two games in his 3 starts this season.
Those who tuned in to the game on Tuesday night may have heard the announcer mention the long-standing relationship between Heyward and the Dodgers First Baseman Freddie Freeman. The two were roommates from 2007-2010 as they rose through the Braves minor league system together and were teammates on the Atlanta Braves from 2010-2014. Interestingly, Heyward was the first to get called up in 2010 which is the year Heyward received his one and only All-Star selection and placed second in Rookie of the Year votes. Freeman was called up later in that year but only received 24 Plate Appearances in 20 games. Freeman would go on to have a much more successful career with an MVP and 6 All-Star selections to his name. Heyward may have been quicker to maximize his potential, but Freeman has only gotten better with age.
Although the two have seen their careers go in different directions, one could argue that the two playing together has a positive impact on Heyward’s performance. Focusing on Heyward’s performance from 2010-2014, Heyward slashed above his career averages. He hit .262/.351/.429 in his 5 years with the Braves compared to a career .257/.339/.407. He also hit 84 of his 161 career home runs while playing for the Braves during this period. Even though Freeman was not on the team for the entirety of the 2010 season, Heyward has hit almost half of his Major League home runs when Freeman was his teammate.
Can we attribute Heyward’s hot start to the reunion of him and his friendly rival Freddie Freeman? The two have acknowledged they share a bond and are able to push each other to be better. Anybody who has played a sport knows that there are certain guys that can bring out the best in you and I believe there is enough evidence to prove this is the case with Heyward and Freeman. Three games are too small of a sample size to predict how the rest of the season is going to go but I will be rooting for Heyward to have a bounce back year and prove that he still has what it takes to be a staple piece for a playoff bound roster.