Spring Training is underway for the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs and expectations for the team are both high and relaxed. This great young Cubs team that won their first championship in 108 years is expected to make another run at the top, yet there is no pressure of this year finally being, “The Year.”
Players seem to be back in full focus to avoid the hangover of a championship, but one person who has been working extra hard is outfielder Jason Heyward. While winning a gold glove in right field in 2016, Heyward’s bat mightily struggled in his first year as a Cub, putting up a .230/ .306 / .631 slash with seven home runs and 49 RBIs in 142 games. He had a huge issue of rolling over on pitches with his long swing and producing a lot of ground balls, complimented with also a lot of pop ups on high pitches above the belt.
Heyward (27) signed a $184 million deal with the Cubs before the 2016 season after putting up a .293 / .359 / .797 slash leading to a 6.0 fWAR season in 2015 with the St. Louis Cardinals. After last year’s struggles at the plate, Heyward has worked on his swing with Cubs coaching to rework his mechanics to bounce back in 2017.
Fans got a look at his new swing in the first spring training game in Mesa, Arizona and the changes were obvious. He holds his and hands lower and more towards the plate in attempt to shift his arms and weight more efficiently and with proper balance to square up the ball and not get over or under it too much. Joe Maddon has all the confidence in him and understands what he has to do.
“His hands are working so much better, our game, as a hitter, is played between your finger tips and elbows. Guys who have this a little bit long, a little bit ‘arm-y,’ we call it the military swing…You want to keep it out of the elbows to the shoulders. That’s when you get trouble. You get sweepy and long.” -Joe Maddon talking to Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales
I think there is a lot of reason for optimism when it comes to a potential bounce-back of Jason Heyward’s bat. Heck, if he puts up a .265 avg with a .350 OBP that is perfectly okay because his baseball IQ is very good and as long as he gets on base with all these other high OBP guys, money paid is worth it. But we know one thing for sure, regardless of production, Heyward has a gold glove and gave the most important locker room speech in Cubs history.