March 04, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (right) and center fielder B.J. Upton (2) before the spring training game against the New York Mets at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Heyward and Upton: Unrealized Potential

The Atlanta Braves have a couple of obvious problems right now.  They have at least a couple of players who have great potential, but have not been able to turn their potential into success.  Jason Heyward has proven in his 3+ years in the league that he has a great deal of potential offensive talent, but I would argue that he has never broken out and showed the kind of offensive talent that most believe he has.  I don’t even think you would get an argument from Jason on that.  There’s no question he is talented defensively, and winning a gold glove in the 2012 season proves that aptly enough, but what the Braves need from Jason is for him to figure out how to be consistently strong with his bat.  There has always been that feeling among Braves fans and the organization alike, that you just expect a little bit more out of  a player that was picked 14th in the 1st round of the 2007 draft.

Heyward is still recovering from his placement on the DL due to an emergency appendectomy, and has already began his rehab assignment in the minors, but before Jason went on the DL he was hitting for a dismal .121 BA, an OBP of just .261 and a SLG of just .259.  Add to those low numbers the fact that this season, Jason has only 2 homers for a batter expected to deliver much more on that stat, and it’s clear he is in a slump he’s having trouble getting out of.  I’m not trying to simply criticize Jason here, but rather to point out that nagging feeling that almost everyone has, that he should be much more productive after 3+ years in the majors than he has been.

If we compare his numbers over his short career to that of Freddie Freeman, you begin to see where his potential is there, but performance is lacking.  Freddie Freeman was also selected in the 2007 draft, selected in the 2nd round instead of the 1st round, but has better numbers overall than Jason.  Granted, the numbers are not substantially different at first glance, but if you break the numbers down in the tables below with a fine-tooth comb, you begin to see a problem with Heyward.  He has had moments where he has been amazing, but too often moments where he struggles and cannot seem to get out of the funk.

Freddie Freeman over a 3 year period / 4 year cumulative

Year G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
2011 157 635 571 67 161 32 0 21 76 53 142 .282 .346 .448
2012 147 620 540 91 140 33 2 23 94 64 129 .259 .340 .456
2013 22 94 85 13 25 4 0 2 19 8 18 .294 .362 .412
4 Yrs 346 1373 1220 174 330 70 2 47 190 125 297 .270 .342 .447
162 Game Avg. 162 643 571 81 155 33 1 22 89 59 139 .270 .342 .447
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/11/2013.

Jason Heyward over a 3 year period / 4 year cumulative

Year G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
2011 128 456 396 50 90 18 2 14 42 51 93 .227 .319 .389
2012 158 651 587 93 158 30 6 27 82 58 152 .269 .335 .479
2013 17 69 58 8 7 2 0 2 5 8 12 .121 .261 .259
4 Yrs 445 1799 1561 234 399 79 13 61 201 208 385 .256 .349 .440
162 Game Avg. 162 655 568 85 145 29 5 22 73 76 140 .256 .349 .440
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/11/2013.

 

The other problem for the Atlanta Braves is BJ Upton.  Granted, BJ has substantially more experience in the majors than either Freeman or Heyward, but in my opinion, when you are paying a player $12.5 million, and he was selected as the 2nd pick in the 1st round of the 2002 draft, you expect more out of him as well.  Don’t get me wrong!  Every player has moments of struggle and seasons of slump, but if you take a look at the last three years for BJ Upton, with numbers for a 9 year cumulative, you begin to see that he has unrealized potential as well.

BJ Upton over a 3 year period / 9 year cumulative

Year G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
2011 153 640 560 82 136 27 4 23 81 71 161 .243 .331 .429
2012 146 633 573 79 141 29 3 28 78 45 169 .246 .298 .454
2013 32 134 118 8 18 4 0 3 6 13 44 .153 .241 .263
9 Yrs 998 4197 3686 547 928 206 20 121 453 443 1064 .252 .333 .417
162 Game Avg. 162 681 598 89 151 33 3 20 74 72 173 .252 .333 .417
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/11/2013.

 

When I look at the numbers, I first wonder why the Braves agreed to pay BJ Upton what they are paying him, but I also see a player who while he might not be expected to tear up the NL East with his bat, should at least be producing more than a .153 BA, and a .241 OBP.  Braves fans just expect players to produce in keeping with their capability, and their pay, and that’s not too much to expect.  I realize also that others players in the Braves organization struggle at times, but when I talk to fans I get this strong sense that people just expect more out of Jason, and certainly expect more from BJ based on what he is paid.

Both BJ Upton and Jason Heyward have a lot of potential talent.  They were both drafted high, and have proven at times that they can produce with the best of them.  Lately though, they both seem to be in a slump that appears to be a bottomless pit.  No, I know they will eventually come out of the funk, but how patient will Braves fans be, and even if they come out of the funk, how long will any consistency last?  More importantly, how patient will Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez be with players who cannot seem to produce, when you have other players like Jordan Schafer and Reed Johnson who seem hungry, ready to play, and are consistently producing when they get the opportunities?  It will be interesting to see how well Jason Heyward does in his rehab games, and after returning to the Atlanta Braves how Freddie will decide to use him.  I’m personally about out of patience with BJ Upton, and feel it is time  that Fredi Gonzalez begins to give serious though to sitting him on the bench to clear the cobwebs.  Because I am a Braves fan, I sincerely support all players, slumping or not, and sincerely hope that both BJ Upton and Jason Heyward will turn things around and be the players we know they can be.  I suppose only time will tell, but in the meantime the Braves have a couple of players at least who have a great deal of unrealized potential.  Here’s to hoping they will realize it soon.

 

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