David Ross was one of the most vocal leaders in the clubhouse last season, and his off-field impact was echoed throughout the roster. Given his age, position on the field, respect throughout the league, general demeanor, and impending retirement, Ross was a pretty obviously choice for the role.
Of course, Ross is gone this season, so additional leaders needed to step up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jason Heyward has been one of those guys.
Heyward, still just 27 years old, has been getting fantastic reviews from his fellow teammates and coaches this season, Jesse Rogers reports at ESPN. Possibly the most glowing review came from rookie outfielder/infielder Ian Happ:
“He’s unbelievable,” Ian Happ told ESPN. “Really, really helpful with advice. Always willing to help the younger guys and be a positive influence …. His attitude never varies. He’s always encouraging. I can’t say enough about him.”
That’s about as good as it gets in the review department, but Happ was far from the only one who felt this way. Jon Jay indicated that he was in “awe” of Heyward’s steady attitude, and Kyle Schwarber is impressed by his ability to never change, regardless of his performance on the field. Obviously, that’s a mentality that could well serve a number of struggling young Cubs hitters right now, Schwarber especially.
Indeed, Joe Maddon has witnessed Heyward’s ascent into a leadership role this season and he, too, has been impressed. Further, Heyward’s success at the plate, according to Maddon, may have given that extra bit of confidence to step up, even if Heyward’s really always been the same guy.
But let’s talk about that success at the plate for a minute, while we’re here. As you most likely know (especially if you follow me on Twitter), Jason Heyward has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball this season … despite the results not quite matching his exit velocity.
- Jason Heyward: 88.3 MPH
- Anthony Rizzo: 88.2 MPH
- Kyle Schwarber: 87.6 MPH
- Addison Russsell: 87.4 MPH
- Javier Baez: 87.0 MPH
- Kris Bryant: 86.8 MPH
- Ben Zobrist: 86.6 MPH
- Willson Contreras: 85.8 MPH
Fortunately, many of those hard hit balls are finally starting to fall for hits, quite a few of which are even going for extra bases. Consider that, since May 21 (when Heyward returned from the DL for his knuckle injury), he’s recorded 17 hits in 16 games, including five doubles, a triple and two home runs, while striking out less than 10% of the time. That’s good for a .500 slugging percentage – something Heyward’s never been able to achieve over a full season.
His season line is still technically just below average (.264/.322/.415), but that’s still an enormous improvement over last season, and it’s clearly trending in the right direction.
With his glove, improved offense at the plate, base running skills, and natural leadership abilities, Jason Heyward is finally playing like the complete player the Cubs signed two offseasons ago.