Chicago Cubs: Is Jason Heyward ready to evolve as an offensive threat?

Jason Heyward / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Jason Heyward / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

If first-year manager David Ross deploys him appropriately, Jason Heyward may finally start living up to the hype of Chicago Cubs fans in 2020.

The Chicago Cubs have a pretty clear outfield picture this year. Kyle Schwarber, coming off one of the best stretches of his career, will primarily handle duties in left. Either Albert Almora and Ian Happ will handle things in center field. In right field, five-time Gold Glover Jason Heyward has the starting job locked down.

That being said, I suspect we’re going to see Heyward used in a very different way this season. Gone are the mix-and-match ways of Joe Maddon. Also gone are Maddon’s maddening decisions – like continuing to trot Heyward out against left-handed pitching, regardless of pretty apparent numbers suggesting it was not the right move.

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In his career, the former All-Star outfielder carries a .304 OBP against southpaws. Against right-handers, meanwhile, that number climbs to .358. Last season, those splits were even more eye-popping.

He crushed against right-handed pitching, to the tune of a .264/.365/.466 line. Against southpaws, though, he batted .205/.258/.295. Did that stop Maddon from trotting Heyward out against lefties? Of course it didn’t.

New skipper David Ross has already shown a willingness to make bold moves. Right out of the gate, he made the move to name Kris Bryant the leadoff hitter, another decision Maddon never came around to, despite the Cubs’ leadoff woes.

If Ross is willing to make decisions like that, I can’t believe he’ll continue defying logic and letting clear platoon candidates like Heyward take at-bats in which he’s clearly not in a position to succeed.

Newcomer Steven Souza could get reps in right field and if Almora takes hold of the center field job, someone like Happ could see time out there. Perhaps Bote will play some third, allowing Bryant to play some outfield, but Ross has made it fairly clear he wants his former MVP at the hot corner more often than not.

There’s no questioning what Heyward can bring to this team. He’s long been an elite corner outfielder defensively and his makeup in the clubhouse is unrivaled. He recently made headlines with a sizable charitable donation to help those impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"“We just want everyone to be safe first; we want the country to be safe first; we want the world to be safe first,” Heyward said. “And whenever that is, I think they’re going to figure out how to move best. Again, everybody wants to go play, everyone wants to have a season, everybody wants to have an opportunity to win a World Series, be back around fans, the adrenaline — all the things we love about the game.”"

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All that is good and well. But since he inked his record contract, he’s never really lived up to the billing with the bat. With the right matchups in his favor, though, this might be the year he shocks the baseball world and puts up some eye-popping numbers.