Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward put in months of work this offseason, hoping to make up for a dismal performance at the plate during the 2016 season.
There’s no way around it. Last season, the Chicago Cubs expected more from Jason Heyward at the dish.
His .632 OPS ranked as the worst of his career; so did his .230 average across 592 plate appearances. In the postseason, his average hovered around the .100 mark, although he delivered the now-famous ‘weight room speech’ during the Game 7 rain delay, etching his name in Cubs’ immortality.
Thankfully, pieces like Addison Russell broke out in a big way, picking up the slack offensively. Not to mention, you had two MVP-caliber pieces at each corner infield spot in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.
The reigning National League Gold Glove Award winner in right field moved to Arizona in early December so he could be closer to the team’s facilities in Mesa. There, he worked with Chicago coaches Eric Hinske and John Mallee, stripping his swing back down to nothing and rebuilding it from the ground-up.
The pair talked with Ken Rosenthal about this offseason, much of which was sent with Heyward. The whole piece can be found here – and it’s an incredible read. To be frank, it’s humbling to see how hard the Cubs outfielder has worked to get back on-track this offseason, even as a veteran player.
"“He may be better than he ever was,” Mallee told Fox Sports. “I’m very happy for him. His mind is in the right place. He has done a lot of mental stuff. It’s really special what he has put into this.”"
Heyward is entering year two of a record eight-year, $184 million deal. The contract features several opt-outs, but it’s ridiculous to suggest the former first-round pick would even think about exercising one after last season.
Still waiting on dividends in Arizona
There’s no selfishness in the mind of the four-time Gold Glove winner. He was disgusted with how he performed last season and has done everything in his power to move past it. Even the Cubs president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, knows this.
"“I’ve never seen a veteran player work as much as Jason did this winter, let alone right after winning a World Series and having already signed a long-term deal,” Epstein said. “It shows how much he cares, his dedication, his pride and his character. He’s the ultimate pro.”"
The routine Heyward developed was rigorous as he sought to re-teach himself how to hit at the Major League level. Tee-work, soft toss and live batting practice all played roles in the winter, but getting his head right was just as important to Heyward.
"“To come out here, have this complex, have a coach with me all the time, it just made it simple,” Heyward said. “It was like, a picture perfect offseason that way. I could watch video. I could pay attention to detail. You cross everything off your list."
Entering play in Cactus League action Friday, Heyward carried an 0-for-11 skid. Despite the early lack of returns for his effort, neither the Cubs’ coaching staff nor Heyward seem overly concerned. It’s a matter of muscle memory and repetition this early – and the outfielder is confident things will come together soon.
"“The last couple games, I’m starting to feel better,” Heyward told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m starting to feel more comfortable. I like that I’m swinging at strikes. And it just feels like the only thing to do is play, and right now that’s how it is.”"