This Is the Jason Heyward the Chicago Cubs Have Been Looking For

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 14: Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two run home run during the fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on July 14, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

This Is the Jason Heyward the Chicago Cubs Have Been Looking For

17 Minutes

The Chicago Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an 8-year, $184 million contract in December 2015. They were looking for another leader in the clubhouse and on the field. Although the 2016 season was a down year offensively for Heyward, he did win his 4th career Gold Glove award. But his greatest impact in 2016 wasn’t in the batter’s box or on the field — it was in the weight room at Progressive Field in Cleveland.

Game 7 of the 2016 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs was headed to extra innings, but play was halted before the 10th inning due to a rain delay. During that short 17-minute delay, the story goes that Heyward got the Cubs together in the weight room and gave a quick, inspiring speech. The Cubs rallied behind his speech, scoring two runs in the top of the 10th and securing the franchise’s first championship in 108 years. Baseball history might be completely different without Heyward’s famous rain delay speech.

Rookie Season

Heyward was drafted 14th overall by the Atlanta Braves in 2007. As a 20-year-old rookie in 2010, he had arguably his best season. Heyward set career highs in OPS (.849) and OBP (.393) to go along with a solid slash line of .277/.393/.456. He also made his only All-Star game appearance and was second in the Rookie of the Year race, losing to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.

Atlanta Career (2010-2014)

In five productive seasons with the Braves, Heyward was the definition of a five-tool player. He had an average slash line of .262/.351/.429, proving that he could hit for contact and had some pop in his bat. During those five seasons, he also stole 63 bases and smashed 84 home runs. He developed into an elite defender in the outfield as well, winning two Gold Gloves while he was in Atlanta.

A Tough Start In the Windy City

The first three seasons of Heyward’s Cubs career were nothing short of disappointing, especially with the bat. In 2016 his slash line was a measly .230/.306/.325 which was well below the league average in all three categories. He also had 93 strikeouts to go along with a career-worst .631 OPS. 2017 brought some slight improvements as his slash line went up to .259/.326/.389 and his strikeouts regressed to 67. His OPS also jumped up to .715 but was still below the league average of .750 on the season.

Heyward was still able to be a constant in the starting lineup these seasons because of his incredible defensive presence. He won back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2016-17, giving him four straight Gold Glove awards from 2014-17 and five in his career. In 2016, his fielding percentage was a whopping .993% across 1200 innings while only committing two errors. 2017 was another strong fielding year for Heyward with a fielding percentage of .992% and just two errors across 1008 innings.

The Turnaround

2019 has been an incredibly productive year for Heyward as his bat has finally started to become the constant threat the Cubs have been yearning for. He has hit 17 home runs, which is already more than he has in any season with the Cubs. It’s also the most he has hit since 2012 when he set his career-high of 27 home runs. Not only is the power finally showing, but he has also been getting on base any way he can. In fact, he already has 44 walks this season, which is more than he had in either of the last two seasons. That has helped him achieve an impressive .353 OBP which is 30 points higher than the league average this season.

Heyward’s slash line is an impressive .276/.353/.472 so far this season. That .472 slugging percentage would be the second-highest of his career, behind only his .479 mark set in 2012. Currently, his OPS sits at .825, which is 94 points higher than his 2018 OPS and 68 points higher than the MLB average this season.

One last thing to keep an eye on — Heyward has been the Cubs lead off hitter for the last five games. It’s a small sample, but in those games, he is hitting .250 with a double, triple, and two home runs. Both homers came as the first Cubs batter of the game. He’s clearly been a spark at the top of the lineup for the Cubs as they are 4-1 in their last five games. If he can keep producing at the leadoff spot, the Cubs may have finally found their permanent leadoff hitter.

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