Chicago Cubs still dealing with the ever-raging Jason Heyward dilemma

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

Another rough spring showing was not an encouraging sign for Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, who is yet to live up to his massive contract.

Ever since Jason Heyward signed an eight-year mega-deal with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2016 season, he has disappointed. The veteran outfielder is set to enter the fourth season of his Cubs tenure and has yet to produce at an elite level – which, make no mistake, was what was expected when the team shelled out $184 million to land him.

To be fair, Heyward remains one of the top defensive outfielders in all of baseball, and he has the ability to impact a game in many different ways. However, he was expected to be far more than a defensive wizard.

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Since Heyward joined the Cubs, he has progressed steadily. While last season was Heyward’s best in a Cubs uniform, there is still be room for growth.

Under Chili Davis‘s tutelage, Heyward slashed .270/.335/.395 in 2018. Solid numbers on the surface, but the Chicago outfielder still struggled to drive the ball with authority. Heyward hit just eight home runs and tallied just 57 RBI. According to Baseball Reference, Heyward managed just a 1.6 WAR last season, a far cry from his career-high of 6.6 in 2015 with the Cardinals.

Despite Heyward’s steady progress as a Cub, his unorthodox swing still produces far too many ground balls and pop-ups, rather than hard-hit balls and line drives.

Dismal spring

Normally I’m not the type to be overly analytical about spring training performances, but given the circumstances, I think Heyward’s showing is noteworthy. The big outfielder slashed just .132/.214/.184 with just two extra-base hits (no home runs) in 42 plate appearances.

In theory, Cubs new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce should be a good thing for Heyward. The Cubs have been looking for Heyward to generate more power at the plate, and Iapoce’s modern approach preaches launch angle.

The Cubs have already tried this approach with Heyward, and it hasn’t worked. Iapoce learned a lot of his methods from Cubs former hitting coach John Mallee. Mallee worked with Heyward in 2016 and 2017, arguably the worst two seasons of Heyward’s career.

For Heyward, simple may be better. The Chili Davis approach has worked better than anything else. Davis worked with Heyward on keeping his hands back and letting the ball travel through the zone more. While the result was still less than stellar, it may have been a step in the right direction.

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Much has been made about Heyward’s “broken” swing, but perhaps the tinkering has taken its toll on him. Heyward is entering his age-29 season, his tenth in MLB. If he were going to make a drastic leap into superstardom, it likely would have happened by now. It may be time to accept that Heyward isn’t the player the Cubs paid for. Even if he continues his slow progression, he can still be impactful for the Cubs in 2019 – just not what we’d once envisioned.