Two years ago, Bus Leagues began building its massive empire on the strength of Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds farmhand who won Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award at the end of the 2007 season. We spoke of Bruce in hushed tones until he was called up midway through the 2008 campaign, followed his early days in the majors with guarded interest, and performed a complicated set of Internet high-fives when someone mentioned this blog to him and he said he liked the nickname we gave him last year.
In short, Jay Bruce was our first man-crush.
Conversely, when Matt Wieters won the same award last year, Bus Leagues Headquarters was largely silent. I remember thinking to myself, “Gee, I should write something about this,” but it never came to fruition, and while I tried to give Wieters a nice welcome to The Show by pointing out his Chuck Norris-like facts site, it just wasn’t the same. We enjoy Wieters, we think he’s gonna be a great player for a long time, we just don’t get the same sense of awesome that we did about Bruce.
The question now is this: where will Jason Heyward fit into the equation?
Heyward, the top prospect in the Atlanta Braves system, was named the Minor League Player of the Year this week by both Baseball America and USA Today (neither Bruce nor Wieters won the latter award, losing out to Justin Upton and David Price, respectively; in addition to Heyward, four players – Andruw Jones (1995-96), Rick Ankiel (1999), Josh Beckett (2001), and Jeff Francis (2004) – have taken home both) after a season that began in the High-A Carolina League, continued through the Double-A Southern League, and will likely end in the Triple-A International League (barring a late September experiential call-up to the Braves).
The 20-year-old Heyward was the fifth-rated prospect by Baseball America prior to last season and the only one of the top eleven on the list who has not seen action at the major league level.
His overall numbers at three stops – 17 homeruns, 63 RBI, 69 runs, 51 walks, 51 strikeouts, .323/.408/.555 – were very good. What set Heyward apart, however, was the environment in which he posted those stats:
“When you consider his ability and his actual performance, especially what he’s done at higher levels, and the power he showed as a notorious pitcher’s park (in Myrtle Beach) … he had a standout season,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said. “His advanced plate discipline, combined with his youthfulness and the difficulty of those leagues ñ the Carolina League, the Southern League, they are very difficult for a 19 to 20-year-old – he made it look easy.”
That’s the amazing thing, when you think about it: Jason Heyward is still just 20-years-old (and a young twenty at that – his birthday was August 9). Despite that, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing him in the Atlanta outfield next season. You have to be at least a little special to reach the majors that early.
I don’t know how Heyward’s career will turn out, or if he will become an official Bus Leagues Favorite. If nothing else, though, he’s off to a great start.