Heyward adds to legend with first homer
Leyland compares prospect's plate discipline to Pujols
LAKELAND, Fla. -- It was a monstrous shot, concluding another of the strong at-bats Jason Heyward continues to patiently produce. Heyward, widely considered baseball's top prospect, managed to make his first homer in the Grapefruit League one of the most impressive ones the Braves will see during Spring Training, and possibly all year.
While many Braves fans anxiously await confirmation that Heyward will begin the upcoming season as their team's starting right fielder, Tigers manager Jim Leyland drew comparisons to the advanced plate discipline shown by a young Albert Pujols during the early years of his career.
With his estimated 450-foot blast off Max Scherzer during the first inning of the 12-4 win on Monday afternoon, Heyward created another of those jaw-dropping moments that have followed him throughout his short career.
"He didn't get it all, but it went a long way," hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "I would have to pick up a fungo [bat] and hit it twice to hit it that far."
With his 6-foot-5, 245-pound athletic frame, Heyward is bound to hit many more of these tape-measure homers that draw the fancy of fans and players alike. But along with power, he is continuing to draw equally strong impressions courtesy of his plate discipline, which was once again on display after he fell behind Scherzer with an 0-2 count.
After watching a 2-2 fastball barely miss on the outside corner, Heyward turned on a 3-2 fastball with his short, powerful left-handed stroke. The towering shot bounced off the top of the metal roof of the batting cages beyond the right field wall and vaulted out of sight to other side of the building.
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"Obviously a young man that size, with the strength he has, he looks like a good-looking young player," Leyland said. "I was very impressed with his patience at the plate. That's what I was impressed with more than anything. He didn't chase any bad balls. That's what impressed me. I was impressed with his at-bats. He didn't even offer at anything unless it was a strike. Pujols was the other guy I saw that was like that."
Further showing his advanced maturity, Heyward was quick to acknowledge that the approach he took during the at-bat proved more satisfying than the power-influenced result.
"That was definitely a good one," Heyward said. "Like I said, [Scherzer] throws it in there pretty well, so it's going to feel good when it hits the bat. The only way to hit that one out was to hit it good."
With six Grapefruit League games under his belt, Heyward has seemingly exceeded lofty expectations. He has batted .417 (5-for-12) and drawn five walks in a span of 18 plate appearances.
"I don't know if he's swung at a bad pitch yet," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who added that Monday's homer was of the longest he's seen hit at the Tigers complex.
When Cox opted to give Heyward a day off on Sunday, he admitted that he selfishly wanted to put his young outfielder back in the lineup to create another chance to see these wide-ranging talents that have most recently victimized Scherzer and the Tigers.
"If he'd have just got a hit or drew a walk, it would have been a great at-bat," Braves right-hander Tim Hudson said. "Then he goes and puts one in the trees out there. It just adds to the legend."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.