Remember how amazingly awesome Game 3 of the National League Division Series was? If you’ll recall, this was the game in which the Chicago Cubs hit a playoff record six home runs en route to an 8-6 victory and a 2-1 series lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. However, it wasn’t one of those six swings that caught Theo Epstein’s attention that night at Wrigley Field. Instead, it was the two-run home run swing from Jason Heyward against Jake Arrieta in the sixth inning that caught his eye.
At that time, Jake Arrieta was nearly unhittable. Before this at-bat, he hadn’t given up a home run in 412 plate appearances from opposing hitters, and it’s not as if this pitch was a mistake or a gift to Heyward. The 1-1 offering was 15 inches off the center and more than six off the outer edge of the plate. According to FanGraphs.com, this was the third-most outside pitch hit for a homer in the entire 2015 season. Believe me, I didn’t know that stat existed either, but it’s still quite impressive and Theo Epstein thought so as well.
“It was a swing I hadn’t seen from him up close in person before, ” Epstein said. “It shows a real sophisticated approach and an ability to make and adjustment like that against one of the best pitchers in the game. A lot of our players and staff were buzzing about that swing in the clubhouse after the game. You couldn’t help but envision maybe some of the damage he could do playing at Wrigley Field on a consistent basis.”
Obviously, it wasn’t just that one at-bat that made up Epstein’s mind to offer Heyward an 8-year, $184 million contract, as he was keeping an eye on the ex-Cardinal the entire 2015 season and especially when St. Louis would come to Chicago. Now that Heyward will be playing at Wrigley Field on that consistent basis that Epstein spoke of, he feels that the power that has been lacking in recent years could make a return as the Cubs’ new center fielder enters his prime years.
“I think it’s in there, ” Epstein said. “He has hit 27 home runs before. There are a lot of players who don’t find their consistent power stroke until they get to this age – 26, 27, 28.
Obviously for Jason, it’s in there. But his frame and his batspeed, how far he does hit the ball when he gets ahold of one and his ability to manipulate the barrel and opposite field home runs in parks that allow it like Wrigley Field, I think there’s more power in there.
But the beautiful thing about this is he doesn’t have to hit for more power than he already has to really help us win a lot of games because of what he brings to the table defensively, on the bases and his on-base skills.
Now, you add consistent power production into the mix and you’re talking about one of the true, true elites in the game. We’ll see how his career evolves.
But he doesn’t have to do more than what he’s already done. His approach and how hard he works and wants to get better and the growth mindset that he has, he could put it all together.”
Jason Heyward himself also believes that we haven’t seen his best baseball yet.
“I feel like I’m not done, ” Heyward said. “I feel like there’s more in there. I said that at the beginning of spring training in 2015.
I feel like I took some strides going forward and getting back to some things that I used to do when I was 19, 20 years old. I want to see what I can do to make the most of that and continue to build off this past year.”
Heyward’s career high 27 homers came in the 2011 season as a member of the Atlanta Braves. In the seasons since then, he’s hit 14, 11, and 13. Do you think he can become a consistent 25-home run player? I guess only time will tell.