August 30, 2020: Baseball is a game filled with history, numbers and records, to the extent that some milestone moments are met with a shrug or a quick smile before everyone moves on. On August 30th, three Cubs outfielders did not take what they accomplished together for granted.
In a 10-1 rout of the Reds, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ian Happ each launched two home runs to push the Cubs to their 20th win of the season. It was the first time in recorded Major League history that a starting outfield trio enjoyed a multihomer showing in the same game.
"Whenever you have a little piece of history," Schwarber said, "you always keep that with you."
"It's just really special," Happ said. "We were all talking about it. We were all pretty excited about it. It's pretty rare now. This game's been going on for a while, so it's pretty rare to have a first."
Schwarber got the derby going with a leadoff homer off Castillo in the fourth inning, sending a 2-0 changeup a projected 428 feet to right field, per Statcast. Schwarber also capped off the parade with a grand slam off José De León that soared a projected 444 feet in the ninth. Before that slam, the Cubs were 7-for-37 with no homers and a .398 OPS with the bases loaded this year.
Schwarber laughed when asked if he felt like he needed to hit the second homer to not be left out of the festivities. "Great question. I guess so," he said. "It's pretty cool, though. I guess we made some history today."
Heyward launched a solo homer off Castillo in the fourth and then added another against reliever Robert Stephenson in the sixth. Those blasts, combined with his two walks, improved his slash line to .362/.508/.787 in his past 18 games, in which he has boosted his season OPS to .962 from .501.
"He really does a good job of staying in his approach," Ross said, "and not getting outside of what he knows he can do, and where he likes the baseball. So I've seen such good at-bats from him. Consistency."
Happ belted a two-run homer to center off Castillo in the fifth and then added a solo blast to right off Stephenson in the seventh. He entered the day with a .407 on-base percentage and .604 slugging percentage in 14 games as the Cubs' leadoff man, filling in exceptionally for the injured Kris Bryant.
All of those elements added up, combined with the history achieved, made this one memorable for the trio. "We're really close out there," Happ said of the outfielders. "To be able to do that as a group, with two of the guys that you care about a lot, that you've played with for a long time, that was really special for all of us." (Bastian - mlb.com)
- Sept. 17, 2020: Sweet-spot rate: Jason Heyward (Cubs)
In his first four seasons with the Cubs since signing an eight-year, $184 million contract, Heyward posted a .711 OPS. Now the 31-year-old is suddenly hitting like a star (.286/.408/.521). The biggest difference? Heyward has cut down on both his ground balls and popups and turned them into line drives -- a far more productive output. And so there he is, just behind old pal Freddie Freeman near the top of the sweet-spot rate leaderboard. In 2020, 46.8% of Heyward’s balls in play have been hit with a launch angle between 8-32 degrees, generating a .628 batting average and 1.233 slugging percentage.
|DOB:||8/9/1989||Agent:||Casey Close - Excel|
|Birth City:||Ridgewood, NJ|
|Draft:||Braves #1 - 2007 - Out of high school (GA)|
Heyward comes from a great family. He is respectful, works hard, and receives instruction with meekness. Both parents went to Dartmouth.
He is just a terrific young man—articulate and well mannered. He is the real deal on the field and off the field.
"I was brought up by parents who taught me to treat everyone with respect, to treat them the way I want to be treated. It's a simple way to go about life, but my parents taught me that from an early age," Jason said.
Jason was born in Bridgewood, New Jersey. The family moved to the Atlanta suburb of McDonough in November 1991, just weeks after the Braves' "worst to first" season ended against the Twins in the World Series.
By the age of 10, Jason was telling his parents he wanted to play professional baseball.
"A lot of kids say that," said his mother, Laura, a quality control analyst. "By the time they're 12, they want to do something different. It never changed with him."
- It is all about Jason's parents, Eugene and Laura. It was in Hanover, N.H., that Laura, a French major who spent her junior year in Paris, met Eugene, an engineering major who was on the Dartmouth basketball team. Eugene's coach, Gary Walters, was on the 1964-1965 Princeton team with Bill Bradley that finished third in the country. One of Eugene's best friends in college was Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's vice president of baseball operations.
Laura was raised in Queens, N.Y. Eugene was born into a military family in Beaufort, S.C., and when his parents divorced, they sent him to Los Angeles to live with his uncle and attend a private school. That uncle was Kenny Washington, who was the sixth man on the 1963-1964 and 1964-1965 UCLA national championship basketball teams, John Wooden's first two championship teams.
"I was able to spend a lot of free time at Pauley Pavilion, working out, playing with Kareem and Marquis Johnson and guys like that," the elder Heyward said. "It was fantastic. Dartmouth recruited me, and I was really excited, and was able to go back East so I could visit my father."
In 1988, when he was just 8 years old, Heyward helped lead his McDonough, Georgia Dodgers to an AABC Roberto Clemente World Series Championship.
Jason spent the summers of 2005 and 2006 playing on the highly regarded East Cobb travel team. Teammates included future first round draft choices Josh Smoker (Nats, 2007) and Cody Johnson (Braves, 2006).
- Every year until his son signed with Atlanta in 2007, Eugene would ask, "Do you still love playing?"
Jason always said yes, and Eugene would remind his son to ask himself every day: "Am I who I want to be?"
In 2007, Heyward's senior year at Henry County High School in McDonough, Georgia, he committed to a scholarship to UCLA. But he ended up being drafted by his hometown Braves.
"Getting drafted and having the chance to play for my hometown team is a dream come true,” said the five-tool outfielder from McDonough, Georgia, which is less than 30 minutes south of Turner Field. “When I heard them call my name, I was in awe. It was unbelievable.”
In 2006, Jason led his team to a Georgia Class 4-A baseball championship. In his four years at Henry County High, Heyward never missed a single game. In 2007, he hit .520 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs as a senior.
In 2007, Jason got drafted by the Braves (see Transactions below).
In 2008, Baseball America rated Heyward as second best prospect in the Braves' organization, behind only OF Jordan Schafer. The book had Jason at #2 in the Braves' farm system again in the winter before 2009 spring training, behind RHP Tommy Hanson.
And in the winter before 2010 spring training, Baseball America Heyward as #1 prospect in the Braves' organization.
- In 2008, Heyward finished third in the South Atlantic League in batting average (.323), fourth in on-base percentage (.388) and fifth in runs scored (88). And he accomplished most of this before turning 19 in August.
Jason has really good baseball instincts. And he has tremendous athleticism.
Heyward comes from an athletic family. His father played basketball at Dartmouth. And his uncle took the hardwoods at UCLA under head coach John Wooden.
Both his Mom, Laura, and his Dad, Eugene, graduated from Dartmouth.
Jason is a real professional, both on and off the field. He sets goals and doesn't let anything stop him from achieving them. He has a real good head on his shoulders.
He is quiet, going about his business the same way every day. Nothing upsets him. He likes to work at the game and is very professional in the way he goes about it. Even in batting practice, Heyward isn't out there trying to impress anybody. He's working on using his hands and driving the ball to the opposite field.
In 2009, Heyward was named by Baseball America the Minor League Player of the Year. And also the #1 prospect in both the Carolina League and the Southern League.
Heyward became the first Braves prospect to earn this honor since Andruw Jones in 1995 and 1996.
During Spring Training in 2010, Heyward hit two notable batting practice home runs. One hit and damaged a Coca-Cola truck in the parking lot, and another broke the sunroof of Atlanta Braves' assistant GM Bruce Manno's car in the same lot.
In 2010, as Heyward began his first Major League season, he selected uniform No. 22 to honor the memory of his former high school teammate, Andrew Wilmot. Jason and Andrew played on the 2005 Georgia high school state baseball championship winning team. The following year Wilmot, while attending college in Tennessee, was killed in a car accident.
Jason has massive hands. If you shake hands with him, your hand disappears. He has broad shoulders, thick arms, and a thin waist.
In 2010, Jason became the second-youngest Major Leaguer to ever be elected to start an All-Star Game.
Heyward's offseason workout program leading up to 2012 spring training gave him a lot of confidence. Jason's workouts started two weeks after the season ended. They started with 8:00 a.m. wake-up calls five days a week, as opposed to just Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as in the past.
He did physical therapy to build strength in his shoulder twice a week, workouts with weights at the gym three times a week and for the first time he started a regular routine of running and cardio-work.
He made an effort to slim down, dropping from 256 pounds entering 2011 spring camp to 235 at the start of 2012 spring training. He was eating fewer steaks and junk food and adding fruits and healthy snacks to meals of salads, fish, chicken, or pasta.
"If he keeps going about his business the way he's going about it, it makes for special careers and special people," Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said. "You get guys who are talented and have a special will to win. He has it. Even for that type of player, the game is not easy. It's not easy for anybody. He competes, has a will to win, and wants to be great."
"I was taught you need to earn everything you have," Heyward said. "When something gets hard and you get a little adversity, you overcome it. If in a game you felt you got cheated or something, my dad would say, 'Well, be better next time and beat them.' You try and do everything you possibly can to do well. After that, you can't control it."
Instead of moping or being soured by the fact that Braves general manager Frank Wren said Heyward was not guaranteed a starting job the following season, he entered that offseason before 2013 Spring Training determined to make the necessary changes. Heyward committed himself to a rigid conditioning program that made him leaner and allowed himself to be open to the adjustments Walker suggested when he began his current role between the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"He has a will to be great," Walker said. "He doesn't want to be a good player. You run across players that want to be good and want to win. But he has a will to be as good as he can be."
While Heyward might not openly show his intensity by throwing helmets or breaking bats over his knees, he does so while consistently running out ground balls and aggressively breaking up double-play attempts.
"He goes out and competes as hard as anybody I've ever been around," Walker said. "The one thing that separates him from most people who aren't in the clubhouse or the dugout is how hard he competes. He is a gifted player that wants to be a winning player. His game is evolving, but he competes every day and he has a will to win."
Somewhere in the process, Heyward also has the desire to separate himself from the elite of the elite.
"I want to be great," Heyward said. "I don't want to settle for mediocrity. I know that comes with time and patience." (Mark Bowman - mlb.com - 8/19/2013)
Along with being blessed with tremendous athleticism, Jason has endeared himself to fans with the all-out effort he brings to the stadium on a daily basis. His insatiable desire to compete has put the Braves right fielder in a position to receive a respectable and deserving honor.
Heyward has been selected by the Major League Players Alumni Association as the Braves' representative for this year's Heart and Hustle Award. This award honors active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game. The Heart and Hustle Award is also the only award in Major League Baseball that is voted on by former players. (7/22/2014)
Heyward didn't make the request, but Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn't feel he needed to wait for one. What better way to welcome Heyward into the organization, Matheny thought, than to initiate a potential jersey swap himself.
Matheny and Heyward both have deep-rooted connections to the No. 22. It's the only number Heyward had ever worn as a Major Leaguer and, aside from brief stints with numbers 15 and 44, the one Matheny had donned as both a player and manager. The number also plays prominently in the non-profit organization Matheny started in 2003, the Catch Twenty-Two Foundation, which has helped build handicapped-accessible baseball fields in three St. Louis-area cities.
In some form, both Heyward and Matheny also have the figure represented as parts of their Twitter handles.
But it's the reason Heyward wears that number that has driven Matheny to begin the process of working with Major League Baseball's merchandising folks to see if the manager can give it up. There are some complexities with that process because of merchandise already printed and in distribution.
Heyward's connection to No. 22 goes back to his days on the Henry County High School baseball team in Georgia, where he played alongside catcher Andrew Wilmot, who wore No. 22. While attending college, Wilmot was killed in a car accident in 2007. As a gesture to his late friend's family, Heyward asked the Braves for No. 22 when he was added to the roster before the 2010 season.
He has worn that number to honor and remember Wilmot ever since. Wilmot's mother, Tammie Ruston, who was also Heyward's high school literature teacher senior year, was in the right-field stands to see Heyward debut with that number. (Jenifer Langosch)
Heyward’s supporters portray him as incredibly unselfish with a multitude of intangibles and no diminishing skills. Zach John Savage, who has coached three teams to the College World Series (including a 2013 title) in his last six seasons at UCLA, quickly noticed Heyward’s professional demeanor in separate visits to Heyward’s hometown in McDonough, Ga., and during lunch in Malibu, California, during a recruiting visit in 2006.
“He was way beyond his years, physically and mentally,” Savage recalled. “People treated him with respect and looked up to him. He made people around him better.” (Mark Gonzales/2015)
2016 Spring Training: Joe Maddon remembers when players would sit around the clubhouse with a bucket of long necks to talk about the game. These days, they're at the juice bar. And this spring, the Cubs players are finding out just how knowledgeable new outfielder Jason Heyward is.
"He's really smart," Anthony Rizzo said. "A lot of things we talk about, not a lot of guys in this clubhouse or in the game talk about. He's very advanced with everything. He sees everything, he watches everything, he pays attention to everything, which in my opinion is not easy to do."
The Cubs' collective baseball IQ should get a boost from Heyward.
"He's five steps ahead of the game," said Rizzo. "We were talking, and I'm like, 'Wow, you think like that, too?' He anticipates moves off the bench, why would you throw this guy that pitch in this situation. It's little things that an outsider would never think about."
Maddon noticed it when watching Heyward from afar.
"He can beat you in a five-tool way on a nightly basis, whether it's running, whether it's throwing, whether it's defense, whether it's hitting, or hitting with power, and the sixth tool, just the way he thinks," Maddon said. "He's the complete baseball player." (Carrie Muskat - MLB.com. - February 22, 2016)
What does it take to win a world championship? A lot of work. Years of dedication. And for Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler, it meant hours and hours with hitting trainer CJ Stewart. Heyward and Fowler just helped the Chicago Cubs break the curse and win their first World Series since 1908. Stewart sat down with 11Alive's Blayne Alexander to find out what it took to get the two players where they are today.
"I started training Jason when he was 14, but I was first aware of him at 10 years old," Stewart said. "I remember watching some of my other kids play, and there was this tall kid—he was taller than everybody—he was left handed and had this level of passion."
Trainer CJ Stewart with Diamond Directors is known for turning baseball dreamers into Major League players. Dexter came to him first, at age 14. A few years later, Stewart started training Jason. From the beginning, he says, the two were laser focused.
"I remember (Jason) telling me, 'Coach CJ, I've discovered from my house to this training facility, the halfway point is Turner Field. I want to hit a home run at Turner Field by the age of 21,'" Stewart recalled, adding that Heyward was only 14 years old at the time.
Turns out, he got the chance even earlier: Heyward was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2007. Three years later, at age 20, during the first game of his major league career, Heyward hit a home run his first time at bat. Week after week, Stewart worked with Heyward and Fowler on their hitting technique. But he said during the nail-biter game 7 of the World Series, he couldn't even stand to watch.
"I went to bed," Stewart said. "I couldn't handle it! I knew when I woke up, one team would be the winner."
For Stewart, it turned out to be the right team, and a deeply satisfying win. As a child growing up in northwest Atlanta, Stewart was a die-hard Cubs fan. And during his own MLB career, he spent two years as a Chicago Cub. But it wasn't the history making win or even the years spent polishing the young players that endeared Stewart to Heyward and Fowler. It's the stories we don't hear—like Heyward's Christmas gift for Stewart's L.E.A.D. Ambassadors, a group of at-risk young men Stewart mentors through baseball.
"We literally shut down Foot Locker and he bought a pair of shoes for every ambassador, we're talking close to 25 young men," Stewart remembered. "Jason was 18 years old. He had just been drafted by the Braves."
Years later, when Heyward and Fowler celebrated their World Series win, Stewart received texts from some of those young men. "They said 'We did it, coach. We won,'" Stewart said. A reminder of the lasting impact the players had left on the young boys. And part of what makes their big win even sweeter.
"I know it's gonna provide a platform for both Jason and Dexter to empower others the way they've been empowered," he said. (Blayne Alexander - WXIA - November 2016)
March 18, 2020: - A group of Cubs past and present are doing their part to assist those in need during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Outfielder Jason Heyward is the latest to step up, focusing on families impacted by the virus. Heyward's agency, Excel Sports Management, announced that the outfielder has made a $200,000 donation to a pair of Chicago-based charities. Heyward sent $100,000 to MASK Chicago, which is collecting supplies and meals for affected families, and another $100,000 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
This comes while Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo -- through his foundation -- has been providing daily warm meals for the nursing staff at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. The hospital is one of the top pediatric providers in the United States, and the food being provided by the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation is coming from Chicago-area restaurants.
Major League Baseball's 30 teams are also stepping up to help the thousands of seasonal ballpark employees who depend on games for their income. Every team is donating $1 million to help the cause. (J Bastian - MLB.com - March 18, 2020)
June 5, 2020: They split into discussion groups. Teenagers from Chicago's Austin neighborhood stood alongside athletes representing one of Chicago's professional teams, with at least one member of the Chicago Police Department present, too.
Former Bears player Sam Acho helped organize the gathering, which included Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward and infielder Jason Kipnis. The event -- which followed proper CDC, state and local safe practice and distancing guidelines -- was held at the By The Hand club in Austin on Chicago's West Side. Given the national unrest and protests in the days since the killing of George Floyd while being detained by Minneapolis police officers, this was an opportunity for important dialogue in the name of change.
"The beginning of it is people being willing to listen," Heyward said in an interview on ESPN 1000 in Chicago this week.
Besides Heyward and Kipnis, other Chicago athletes on hand included Mitch Trubisky and Allen Robinson of the Bears, Jonathan Toews and Malcolm Subban of the Blackhawks, and Ryan Arcidiacono and Max Strus of the Bulls. By The Hand Club For Kids, BUILD Chicago and Westside Health Authority each had leaders from their organizations on hand, too.
When they broke off into small groups, it allowed the black teens to speak directly to police officers about their concerns and questions, and gave the athletes a chance to give their input or share their own experiences.
Following the small-group conversations, the athletes boarded a bus and took a tour of the Austin neighborhood to survey some of the damage caused by unrest in recent days. Illinois congressman Danny K. Davis and alderman Emma Mitts also took part in the special outreach event.
During his radio interview on "Waddle & Silvy," Heyward was asked for his reaction to the events that have unfolded over the past week around the United States following Floyd's death.
"It feels like a broken record and we're watching a rerun," Heyward said. "I feel like these things continue to happen over and over and over again. And you have people continuously and helplessly trying to find a solution."
Heyward -- who grew up in McDonough, Georgia, outside Atlanta -- spoke of how his father warned him at an early age about being treated unfairly based on the color of his skin. Heyward said he experienced hateful language while coming up through the Minor Leagues and still encounters it from time to time as a big leaguer.
"I can't say that I don't see it in places," Heyward said. "I won't single out any places that I do, because to me, that's not important. But, it still does exist and I think that's the message that needs to be put out there. A lot of us still deal with that on a daily basis.
"This one is just - as we can see right now, the reason we're having this discussion - this one is on a bigger scale because there's a lot of destruction going on right now that is being based off some of the actions and hatred.
"Everyone has different views and different concerns," Heyward said. "Every ethnicity, race, gender, all these things, people have their own struggles, man. But, I think at the end of the day, right now, we're seeing a lot of conversation about this that we've seen before, but I think it's being spread a little faster through social media." (J Bastian - MLB.com - June 5, 2020)
June 2007: The Braves drafted Jason in the first round, out of Henry County High School in McDonough, Georgia. In August, he signed with scout Al Goetz for a bonus of $1.7 million.
January 18, 2013: Heyward and the Braves avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.6 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, a big increase from the $565,000 he made in 2012.
February 4, 2014: Jason and the Braves again avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a two-year, $13.3 million contract. The deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus, and salaries of $4.5 million in 2014 and $7.8 million in 2015.
His 2015 salary would escalate based on a points system for 2014 accomplishments. He gets extra money for 502 plate appearances, an All-Star Game selection, a Gold Glove award, a Silver Slugger award, and finishing in the top 20 in MVP voting. (Editor's note: In 2014, Jason got more than 502 plate appearances and won the Gold Glove.)
November 17, 2014: The Cardinals sent RHP Shelby Miller and RHP Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves, acquiring Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden.
November 2, 2015: Heyward became a free agent.
December 12, 2015: Heyward and the Cubs agreed on an eight-year, $184 million contract.
- Heyward is the ultimate tools guy. Plus, he also has a very solid feel for the game—which is a rarity to have both superb qualities.
- Jason is a fine lefthanded hitter, providing a solid batting average and real good power. He gets real good extension. He has power to all parts of the ballpark, from real good bat speed. And he is willing to use the entire field.
Heyward has very good instincts for all aspects of the game. He works pitchers into a hitter's count, showing an incredible amount of patience—it is amazing how much patience Jason exhibits. He takes great pride in his pitch recognition and plate discipline. His strike zone judgment is uncanny, really.
Jason has a plan every time he steps into the batter's box. He makes adjustments between at-bats.
He has a smooth, short lefthanded stroke and solid hitting mechanics. Comparisons to Willie McCovey and Fred McGriff have been mentioned when talking about Heyward. So has Dave Parker.
Jason has lightning-quick bat speed. His short stroke is a bit unorthodox, but it works real well.
Heyward will max out his ability to hit home runs when he learns to use his hands more efficiently and better recognizes the pitches he can pound.
During instructional league before 2009 spring training, Jason worked with Braves minor league hitting coordinator Leon Roberts.
"He helped Heyward understand how to get some balls elevated,” Braves G.M. Frank Wren said. “Jason really hit a lot of hard line drives (in 2008) and how he could get a little more into it, a little more elevation in some of his swings. And I’m not talking about an uppercut, I’m talking about a little more elevation that would allow his power to start showing.
- Jason sees the ball real well out of the pitcher's hand. He can fight any pitch off until he gets one he wants. His discipline is quite impressive.
- His home runs are to all parts of the park. In 2009, for example, about half of his dingers went to the opposite field.
April 5, 2010: In his first Major League game with his first at bat, first swing, first hit, a 414-foot home run. Jason entered the big leagues with a big fly in the Braves' 16-5 win over the Cubs. Heyward became only the fifth Atlanta player to hit a homer in his first at bat.
"I felt my legs, but I couldn't hear myself think," Heyward said. "It was so loud. You just hear 'rahhhh' and that was cool."
- August 9, 2010: Jason became the fourth player in Major League history to hit a home run on his 21st birthday. The other three? Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams.
Heyward's poor 2011 season was caused by a number of factors. The thumb injury he had in 2010 seemed to lead to some bad habits, and the sore right shoulder that plagued him also seemed to alter his mechanics in a negative manner. He couldn’t extend properly. He couldn’t go down and away against lefthanded pitchers, and batted just .192 against them. Because he couldn’t extend or generate his normal bat speed, Heyward got into the habit of starting too quickly and jumping. His OBP dropped from .393 as a rookie to .319 in 2011.
Jason also struggled to make the necessary adjustments to account for how opposing pitchers were attacking him. Pitchers consistently got him out by pounding him inside. Braves hitting coach Larry Parrish watched Heyward swing at Turner Field before the 2011 season and came away worried about the young outfielder's mechanics. (But Parrish's problem was that he couldn't deliver his message to players and was fired at the end of the season.)
Heyward the Cub!
Perhaps more than any other team, the Cubs, who have plenty of other power hitters, would be quite happy with Heyward's career average of 19 home runs per 162 games.
"The beautiful thing about this is, he doesn't have to hit for more power than he already has to help us win a lot of games, because of what he brings to the table defensively, on the base, and with his on-base skills," Cubs VP Theo Epstein said before 2016 spring training.
"Now, add consistent power production into the mix and you're talking about one of the true elites in the game."
But, the 2016 season was not a good one for Jason. He just could not get around on a fastball. He could still hit breaking pitches, but not heat, no matter the velocity, it seemed.
Jason's overly mechanical swing belied his natural athleticism and led him to make less hard contact than at any other point in his career.
Like many players, the more Heyward struggled in 2016, the more information he was attempting to process at the plate. His swing was off, and then his brain got in the way, causing him to be behind on everything.
So Jason spent the entire offseason in Arizona working with hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske to retool his hack—lowering his hands, reducing motion in his setup, relaxing and being reactive again.
February 9, 2018: New Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis wanted to call outfielder Jason Heyward this offseason to introduce himself. But as Davis was scrolling down the alphabetical list of names, he mistakenly linked pitcher Kyle Hendricks' name to Heyward's number. Davis left a message, saying, "Hey, are you ready to work?" "[Hendricks] calls me back and said, 'Yeah, dude, I'm ready to work. I have to work on my offense,'" Davis said, relaying the story with a laugh. "I said, 'This isn't Jason.' [Hendricks] said, 'No, it's Kyle.'"
Davis did connect with Heyward and it probably won't be the last time the coach mixes up the players. He was the Athletics' hitting coach from 2012-2014 and had that job with the Red Sox from 2015-2017. What's key is that Davis gets his message across loud and clear to the Cubs players.
Heyward and Davis have been working out at the Cubs complex in Mesa since before Thanksgiving. "It's been a very easy transition because he played for a long time," Heyward said of Davis, 58, who played 19 seasons in the big leagues. "He switch-hit, he knows how to talk feel and things like that. Sometimes you may not need to talk about a mechanic thing, sometimes you just need to talk about feel or whatever, and it gets you in the right mindset and things fall into place that way. It the end of the day during a season, 162 games, that's what you need more than anything. You can work mechanics, you can work drills all you want, but the mindset going into that drill is important and the mindset going into each game and at-bat is important."
Heyward, 28, has been working out at the complex before camp officially opens, and he's prepared. He has a backpack outfitted with speakers that connect to his phone so he can play his tunes while hitting or doing sprints. The outfielder and Davis initially met once a week, and then twice a week. Albert Almora Jr. and Victor Caratini both moved to the Phoenix area this offseason, so Heyward has had others to train with as well as his younger brother Jacob, 22, who was the Giants' 18th-round pick in the 2016 draft.
Last season, the elder Heyward batted .259, and knew what he wanted to work on in the offseason. He also wanted to get healthy. He was limited to 126 games because of separate injuries to his hands.
"Those aren't the numbers I want," Heyward said of his 2017 stats, "but at the end of the day, going on the [disabled list] twice didn't help me. I know myself as a player, and games played is a big thing for me. When I get my repetition, I can do a lot of good things. I did a lot of good things to help us win on both sides of the ball, but there's more in there because there's more games to be played."
Davis had never talked to Heyward before they finally connected on the phone. "I came here with no expectations," Davis said. "People have called me and said, 'Hey, you've got Jason. Here's what you may want to try.' I didn't even know him. I'm not going to go off your experience with him, I'm going to build my experience with him.
"He's either going to trust me or he's not," Davis said. "He's a great young man. I met his dad, I met his brother. I like what I see. One thing I can tell you with that kid is that from the month and a half, two months plus that I've been around him, he wants to get better and he'll work to get better. That's all I can ask." (C Muskat - MLB.com - February 9, 2018)
- As of the start of the 2020 season, Heyward's career Major League stats were: .261 batting average, 144 home runs, and with 579 RBI in 4,920 at-bats.
- Jason exhibits good instincts in the outfield, with an arm that is easily strong enough for right field. His fine throws get excellent carry.
- Heyward needs to improve at going back on fly balls over his head. But he gets a good jump and comes in on balls hit in front of him very well. He covers a lot of ground in right field taking real good routes to the ball.
He displays solid athleticism. He has such good control of his body that he easily makes outstanding diving catches.
- In 2012, Heyward won his first Rawlings Gold Glove for right field.
- In 2014, Heyward received his second Gold Glove award as the best defensive right fielder in the NL.
In 2015, Heyward was named the best right fielder in the NL, winning his third Gold Glove.
In 2016, Cubs right fielder Heyward won his fourth Gold Glove award.
In 2017, Jason won his 5th straight Rawlings Gold Glove award.
A five-time Gold Glove winner, Jason takes pride in his defensive play, and it shows.
"I just want to work at it," Heyward said. "I just try to know where everybody's going to be on the field. I knew who was hitting, somebody who hits to right field often, know who's running. You always want to think about those things before the play happens and it develops. Expect the worst thing to happen, expect to have to make a diving play, expect the ball to be hit to you. You want to be in every spot."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon appreciates it.
"[Defensive skills] normally don't go away—that doesn't go in a slump," Maddon said. "Ask the pitchers how they feel about it. It's fun to watch and it's contagious." (Muskat - MLB.com - 4/19/2016)
- The 2018 Baseball America Best Tools Survey (of managers, scouts and executives) rated Heyward has having the Best Outfield Arm in the National League.
- May 29, 2020: Who has the best throwing arm on the Cubs? Jason Heyward:
One of the reasons Heyward has won five Gold Glove Awards (two with the Cubs) is due to his strong left arm. Heyward had six outfield assists in 2019, and has racked up 24 since joining Chicago in '16. Among all Major League outfielders with at least 200 recorded Statcast events tracked last year, he recorded one of 18 throws that topped 100 mph.
Heyward's top throw of 100.3 mph was the hardest-thrown ball by a Cubs fielder in '19, and he registered nine of the 10 hardest throws from the outfield last year for Chicago. Heyward has spent the bulk of his time in right field, but his skills as a defender allow Chicago to also utilize him in center, if needed. That was the Cubs' approach last year after the acquisition of Nick Castellanos. With the current roster construction, Heyward would remain in right field for the Cubs, with Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ divvying up the innings in center. -- Jordan Bastian
- Jason is a very good baserunner, with outstanding instincts on the bases.
April 27-May 2, 2009: Heyward was sidelined for a few games with a hip flexor injury.
- May 26, 2009: Jason was on the D.L. with pain in his side—an oblique injury.
August 2009: Heyward missed time after he bruised his right heel stepping on first base.
October 25, 2009: Jason was sidelined for the rest of the Arizona Fall League with back inflammation, in the area where his hamstring muscle meets his gluteus muscles.
May 14, 2010: Heyward jammed his thumb during a head-first slide. It was still a minor factor heading into 2011 spring training, and it may always be a blip on his radar screen.
"I don't have any pain in it, but I still don't have the full range of motion in it," Heyward said before 2011 spring camp opened. "I still can't bend it anywhere close to where it was before. I don't know if I ever will be able to do that. But I know it's not holding me back from hitting."
June 27-July 14, 2010: Heyward went on the 15-day D.L. with a deep bone bruise. Jason jammed his left thumb sliding head-first into third.
- March 2, 2011: Jason was sidelined briefly with a left groin strain.
May 20-June 15, 2011: Heyward underwent an MRI that showed inflammation in his right shoulder. He had a cortisone injection, but still went on the D.L. The problem was a nagging one throughout the 2011 season.
After the 2011 season, yet another MRI simply showed inflammation around his shoulder. The exam focused on his cervical spine area to make sure he was not dealing with any ailments that were causing him discomfort. The results of the exam were negative and that Jason did not need to undergo any kind surgical procedure.
He was put on a maintenance and stretching program to strengthen the shoulder. He dieted (little or no steak, lots of fruit and vegetables), becoming leaner. And he worked out harder than he ever had.
April 23-May 17, 2013: Heyward had an appendectomy, going on the D.L. after the surgery.
August 20-September 20, 2013: Justin sustained two jaw fractures when he was struck in the face by a pitch from Mets' pitcher Jonathan Niese. He underwent surgery the next day. He was on the D.L. most of the rest of the season.
Heyward was beaned by a 90 mph fastball. The impact made a loud noise, and the crowd groaned as Heyward crumpled to the ground.
He stayed down on his back for about three minutes before getting helped to his feet. Heyward walked slowly off the field under his own power, escorted by a trainer.
September 11, 2013: Heyward had the restrictive band and braces removed from his mouth.
May 8-20, 2017: The Cubs placed Heyward on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to May 6, with a sprained finger on his right hand.
June 22-July 4, 2017: Jason was on the DL with left hand abrasion.
May 8-18, 2018: Jason was on the DL with concussion.
August 31-September 16, 2018: Heyward was on the DL with right hamstring tightness.
August 14, 2019: Heyward is considered day-to-day after being scratched from the Cubs' lineup due to left knee inflammation. Heyward said he doesn't know exactly when he sustained the injury, but he felt pain for the first time when he got out of bed in the middle of the night following the 4-2 loss to the Phillies.
"The situation was I tried to get out of bed, go to move my knee, and got a kind of locked-up feeling," Heyward said. "Sharp pain [in the] front of my knee. So I would go to extend it and bend it, and get a sharp pain like that. It's nothing ligament-wise, so just rest."
- Sept 7, 2020: Cubs manager David Ross took no chances when outfielder Jason Heyward complained of shortness of breath and light-headedness during the game against the Cardinals. And by morning, Ross was encouraged by the feedback from Heyward and the team's medical staff about the veteran's recovery from the
"I talked to him. He seems to be feeling much better," Ross said prior to the game against the Cardinals. "Lots of tests run last night at the hospital pretty late. He'll have the day off today."
Ross noted that Heyward will go through additional tests, when the Cubs welcome the Reds to Wrigley Field for a three-game series. The manager declined to address the specific nature of Heyward's condition, but the manager expressed in general that the Cubs have not had any positive COVID-19 tests to date.
"I can tell you that," Ross said.