Chicago Cubs: Jason Heyward could be primed for a big comeback

Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward (22) hits a single against the Cleveland Indians during the fourth inning in game four of the 2016 World Series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward (22) hits a single against the Cleveland Indians during the fourth inning in game four of the 2016 World Series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Though 2016 proved to be a statistically disheartening season for Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, there’s plenty of room for optimism entering 2017.  So much so that Heyward should be on the radar for the MLB’s Comeback Player of the Year award.

When Jason Heyward inked an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2016 season, North Side fans felt they had won the baseball lottery.  But things didn’t exactly work out as planned for Heyward in his debut season with Chicago.  In fact, he was nothing short of dreadful at the plate.

Even those who’ve closely examined the advanced stats know Heyward’s shortcomings can’t simply be attributed to bad luck.  The fact is, his swing was full of holes that made hitting fastballs entirely too difficult for him.  Opposing pitchers quickly adapted to Heyward’s inability to catch up to fastballs, and it plagued him all year long.

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Heyward’s slash line for the year was .230/.306/.325.  The veteran outfielder experienced significant declines from the previous year in almost every area of his game offensively.

In 2016, Heyward’s soft contact rate was 27 percent, up from 22.4 percent in 2015.  Again, this goes back to his struggles to get around on fastballs.  For those who watched him regularly, it seemed as though everything Heyward hit was a soft dribbler that stayed in the infield.

Time for a comeback?

The consensus appears to be Heyward will bounce back.  Now, with a .230 batting average and a paltry .306 on-base percentage, some degree of improvement seems inevitable.  But we could see plenty more from Heyward this year.  Conjecture has led some to believe Heyward could even return to All-Star status in 2017.

While his offensive production in the coming season might be a mystery, one thing remains abundantly clear: Heyward will continue to provide Gold Glove defense for the Cubs.

Amidst his endless struggles at the plate, Heyward provided top-tier defense for Chicago last season, just as he has for the entirety of his career.  All signs indicate this season will be no different for the 4x Gold Glover.  As Poppie said on the ’90’s sitcom ‘Seinfeld,’ “On this issue there is no debate!  And no intelligent person can think differently!”

Offensive expectations

That brings us to the question everyone is asking.  What is Jason Heyward going to do at the plate this year?  Well, if the offseason has shown us anything, it’s that Heyward has been making a concerted effort to improve his swing.

This wouldn’t be the first time he’s had to tweak his swing, either during the offseason or mid-season.  And if history repeats itself, Heyward should find some success in his efforts to revamp his plate approach.  He’s pulled it off before.

If you watch his highlights going all the way back to his rookie season in 2010, you’ll see he’s never really had a consistent swing throughout his career.  It’s been a series of moderate adjustments for seven straight years.  Some have given him added struggles, and some have helped him overcome those struggles.  But last year was a different animal.

No one can say for sure what Heyward’s offensive numbers will look like in 2017, but one thing is guaranteed–he won’t be bringing the same swing into the upcoming season.  That in itself should be an indication that things can only get better for Heyward going forward.

Hardware for Heyward?

This isn’t to say Heyward is going to be an MVP-caliber player next year.  But it isn’t all that far-fetched to think he could make his first All-Star appearance since his rookie year in 2010.  If Heyward can get close to the offensive output he provided for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015, it could happen.

Combine those numbers with the sensational defense he’s going to provide, and the Cubs have themselves a borderline elite player.

All of this makes Jason Heyward a prime candidate for MLB’s Comeback Player of the Year award.  This could be the year he starts look like the player the Cubs paid him to be.  Perhaps Heyward already has some momentum.  Though he contributed very little at the plate, Heyward gave a speech during a rain delay in Game 7 of the World Series that many of his teammates have deemed as instrumental in the Cubs’ exhilarating victory.

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New year, new Heyward

The pressure is now on the Chicago Cubs to defend their championship title, and Jason Heyward could play a major role in their campaign to repeat.  With a new season comes a new attitude for the team.  No longer on a quest to become “goat-busters,” the Chicago Cubs are now looking to become baseball’s next great dynasty.

To see the Chicago Cubs’ highest paid franchise player reel in some hardware in the process would be icing on the cake.  After all, who doesn’t love a good comeback story?  If the Cubs could overcome a 108-year championship drought, Jason Heyward could certainly return to being the reliable hitter he’s been for the majority of his career.