Outfielder Jason Heyward is a ‘protected guess’ to make Dodgers workforce
The Dodgers have latched onto the little indicators of progress this spring, the promising moments when Jason Heyward’s new-look, retooled and continued “work in progress” swing, as supervisor Dave Roberts referred to as it, has regarded extra like a completed product on the plate.
Such as when the veteran outfielder hit two house runs within the first week of spring coaching.
Or throughout dwell batting follow classes initially of camp, when he laced line drive singles the opposite approach.
Freddie Freeman began to consider all the best way again in January, when he and Heyward hit collectively for the primary time this offseason at Freeman’s outdated El Modena High discipline in Orange County, taking flips from Freeman’s dad, Fred, and launching them across the outfield.
“His first ball was a missile off the center-field wall,” Freeman, a longtime buddy of Heyward’s going again to their days as younger gamers with the Atlanta Braves, recalled. “It was the sound you heard 15 years ago, where you’re like, ‘Wow, this guy is special.’ ”
It’s been sufficient for Heyward, who signed a minor league cope with the Dodgers this winter, to lock down a probable spot on the membership’s opening day workforce.
Even although his camp efficiency has tailed off the final a number of weeks, and he stays no assure to supply in the course of the common season, it seems more and more clear he’ll have a job to play within the Dodgers outfield in 2023.
“I think it’s a safe bet,” Roberts mentioned of Heyward’s probabilities of making the foremost league workforce. “He’s come to spring training with this new revamped swing that, it looks like he’s done it for a long time.”
Heyward’s mechanics have undergone a significant makeover from final yr, when extended offensive struggles and a nagging knee harm led the Chicago Cubs to launch him with one season left on an eight-year, $184-million deal.
His palms are actually decrease and additional again in his setup stance. His bat path is shorter and flatter than it was once. And when all the things has clicked, he’s been in a position to cowl extra elements of the plate and alter to off-speed pitches, key elements throughout his auspicious four-for-10 begin to Cactus League play.
“I’ve been working on that stuff piece by piece,” mentioned Heyward, who hung out within the winter working with Dodgers hitting coaches in Los Angeles and at their Camelback Ranch facility in Arizona. “Working with the group, trying to put my best foot forward.”
That, Heyward did rapidly, making the most of a center-field void created this offseason when the Dodgers non-tendered Cody Bellinger and got here up brief for Kevin Kiermaier in free company.
The workforce signed two different left-handed-hitting veterans to minor league offers, Steven Duggar and Bradley Zimmer, and has a high prospect pushing for an MLB spot in James Outman. But to this point, it’s Heyward who’s main the group, combining his veteran poise and five-time Gold Glove protection with simply sufficient offensive potential to separate himself from the pack.
“It’s not surprising when you’re talking about the character,” Roberts mentioned. “From the day we signed him, he committed to working with our hitting guys from that point on, diligently. … Flying out to Arizona. Flying out to Los Angeles. Making sure things were cleaned up.”
Nonetheless, with opening day simply two weeks away, many enhancements in Heyward’s swing stay to be made.
Since that sizzling begin to the spring, the 33-year-old has cooled off dramatically. He entered Thursday one for his final 16 in exhibitions. He has struck out eight instances in 14 at-bats whereas trying late on fastballs and chasing pitches off the plate.
Roberts has downplayed the sudden regression.
“I don’t think that anyone expected it to be linear,” the supervisor mentioned. “I think he started off really well, and then he hit a little cold spell, and is working through some things.”
Heyward described it as being a part of the method of his long-term swing change — a byproduct of attempting to exchange previous short-term fixes with extra elementary alterations to his recreation.
“At times, you tend to do things where, you’re putting a Band-Aid on stuff and you want to get a quick result,” Heyward mentioned. “But when you have ability, you want to tap into that. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Still, precisely how a lot capacity Heyward has left, and the way nicely he can extract it earlier than the beginning of the season, may very well be a key subplot to the Dodgers’ upcoming marketing campaign.
Originally, Heyward appeared set for a bench function backing up Chris Taylor in middle, more likely to platoon in opposition to right-handed pitchers and supply defensive versatility late in video games.
But within the wake of Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee harm, and the necessity for Taylor to now play extra shortstop, Heyward may very well be set for a good greater function than most initially anticipated.
“If he can still stay in the strike zone and continue to work on that swing, clean that swing up, he’s gonna be fine,” Roberts mentioned. “We’re still excited about the trajectory.”