Three weeks into the 2017 season, Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward is looking like a player determined to leave his mark on Major League Baseball.
Opening the year as reigning World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs already featured one of the most potent lineups in all of baseball. Headlined by 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant, the team features one of the deepest rosters in the game.
All this without knowing what – if anything – Jason Heyward would provide offensively. He was, after all, coming off the worst offensive year of his big-league career.
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As we near the end of the season’s first month, Heyward is anything but a liability. He’s hitting the ball harder than virtually every other hitter on the team. It appears as if all his hard work this offseason is finally paying dividends.
"“It’s a good starting point,” Heyward told ESPN Monday. “A good start to the season. Keep building. Repetition will come. Keep getting at-bats. Get the most out of it you can. The more you play, the more good things can happen.”"
Entering Wednesday’s series finale against the Pirates, Heyward is batting .287 with a trio of home runs and 16 RBI. By contrast, he finished last season with seven home runs and 49 runs batted in.
Not bad for a guy most Cubs fans wrote off as a failure – even with his Game 7 speech that helped lift the team to its first title in 108 years.
Hard contact a big key for Heyward
According to Statcast, the average exit velocity so far this season in baseball is 87.6 mph. Heyward has surpassed that mark, pounding the ball with authority at 92.1 mph, which ranks among the league leaders.
The outfielder’s three homers averaged just over 410 feet in distance – not bad for a guy who constantly rolled over on balls last year (and all spring). Pitchers used to ambushing him with first pitch strikes are seeing a very different man in the box in 2017, as pointed out by ESPN Stats and Info.
"Heyward is swinging at the first pitch he sees about 40 percent of the time, up from just 18 percent last season. He’s having success, hitting .500 when he puts that first pitch in play, heading into Tuesday’s game. And he’s liking fastballs, swinging at 49 percent of them."
Why the uptick in hard contact?
It’s due, at least in part, to Heyward feeling 100 percent physically. For the first time, he acknowledged this week that he battled a wrist injury that led to his developing bad habits over the course of the 2016 campaign.
Of course, we never heard about this. Heyward’s not the type to make excuses. But with his new approach, modified stance and veteran mental approach, the Gold Glove outfielder is ready to earn that $184 million contract.
And, for the Chicago Cubs, there could be nothing better.