April 15, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) celebrates with third baseman Chipper Jones (10) after hitting a home run in the fourth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Heyward is poised to take the proverbial torch from Chipper at the end of the season.
Chipper Jones has been the face of the Atlanta Braves since the days of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz ended. A professional both on and off the field, Chipper has been the epitome of what every team wants as the face of their franchise.
As Jones nears retirement, a new face in Atlanta is beginning to emerge as the next man to carry the torch: Jason Heyward.
After bursting onto the scene as a 20-year-old rookie in 2010, many compared Heyward to the likes of Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. An injury-plagued 2011 left some wondering if he would ever amount to the superstar so many had pegged him to be, raising questions about his swing and ability to make adjustments in the batter's box.
This season, J-Hey has emerged as one of the best players in the game.
Just 23 years old now, Heyward is batting to the tune of .275/.350/.493 with 20 homers, 16 stolen bases and 60 runs batted in. His WAR -- Wins Above Replacement-Level -- is 5.3, good for seventh-best in all baseball.
According to FanGraphs' baserunning stat, Heyward has been the best baserunner this season. And he isn't just the best -- he's the best by a mile. Heyward has a BsR rating of 6.2 this season, which is nearly two full points higher than the league's second-best runner. As we've all seen this season, scoring on doubles from first base or going first-to-third on a single is a piece of cake for No. 22.
Then there's defense. Per the leading defensive metric in baseball, Defensive Runs Saved, Heyward ranks third amongst all outfielders since his rookie debut in terms of range and throwing ability. He is tied for the best in the National League alongside teammate Michael Bourn and Arizona's Chris Young.
So to recap: Heyward is hitting for power, still walking at a solid rate, runs the bases better than anyone in the game and is one of the better defensive outfielders around. And he just turned 23 last week.
No one is suggesting J-Hey is going to become the next Hall of Famer to come out of Atlanta. Living up to what old No. 10 has done for the franchise is a near impossible challenge for any young player, regardless of how talented they are. But when Chipper retires in a couple of months and the Braves need someone to lead them into their next era, Jason Heyward is the man to do it.
For more on the Braves, check out Talking Chop.