At long last, Jason Heyward is going to play some baseball again.
The Cubs’ defensively-inclined and offensively-rebounding outfielder will be starting a rehab assignment today in South Bend with the Cubs’ Low-A affiliate there (Mooney). Heyward has been out since May 6 after suffering a knuckle injury on a sliding play in the outfield the day before. Although it doesn’t sound like he was impacted defensively much, he had trouble gripping the bat without discomfort, and the Cubs wanted to avoid any kind of setback before allowing him to play.
Heyward took batting practice earlier this week, and it must have gone well, since he’ll now be playing at South Bend (tonight at 6pm CT). How long he’ll stay there depends entirely on how he feels. He hasn’t been out so long that he’s going to need a whole lot of ramp-up time to be ready to go, so if he feels normal swinging the bat, it’s possible he’ll be back as soon as this weekend.
The thing to watch for with Heyward is whether his revamped swing is impacted at all. You’ll recall, he was striking the ball much better this year before his injury after a lost season in 2016 (in part because an early-season wrist injury caused him to get into bad habits to compensate, and his swing deteriorated from there … please don’t happen again).
Once Heyward returns, it’ll be highly interesting to see what the Cubs elect to do with Ian Happ, now that they’ve already sent Jeimer Candelario back to AAA Iowa. There is a roster spot for him if the Cubs opt to go with seven relievers or send Tommy La Stella or Albert Almora to Iowa, but even if the Cubs go that route, are there going to be consistent starts available? When Heyward is back, assuming he starts regularly, there will be just two regular spots on the diamond where Happ could slot in: center/right field (depending on where Heyward plays that day) and second base. That would mean the Cubs would have to sit two of Ben Zobrist, Javy Baez, and Albert Almora (if he were still up) every single time Happ started. I’m not saying that would be the wrong move, especially if Happ is ready for it developmentally, but I am saying it would be a complicated setup to manage.
But, hey: with so many versatile players who’ve bought into the team concept, and a manager adept at handling these situations, I’d imagine the Cubs could pull it off if necessary.
That said, my tentative current guess is that Happ heads back to Iowa – for the time being – when Heyward returns.