Inbox: Why did Heyward struggle?
Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers Braves fans' questions
Braves general manager Frank Wren faces plenty of questions as he attempts to reconstruct his roster and address some of the problems that influenced this past season's disastrous conclusion. Obviously many of you also have questions as you prepare for the Hot Stove season. I will address as many as I can as we publish The Inbox on a weekly basis during the offseason.
What do you think happened to Jason Heyward this year, and do you think he will bounce back next year?
-- David P., Omaha, Neb.
There were a number of factors that hurt Heyward as he proved unsuccessful in his attempt to build off the tremendous promise he showed during his 2010 rookie season. The thumb injury he battled last year seemed to lead to some bad habits, and the sore right shoulder that plagued him this year also seemed to alter his mechanics in a negative manner.
At the same time, while playing most of this past season at the still tender age of 21, he struggled to make the necessary adjustments to account for how opposing pitchers were attacking him. When he found some success in San Francisco and San Diego in late April, one of his veteran teammates said, "Don't these teams know they just have to pound him inside?"
In other words, Heyward's decline did not completely shock those who watched him on a daily basis and were well aware of his weaknesses. Don't forget former hitting coach Larry Parrish watched Heyward swing at Turner Field this past winter and came away worried about the young outfielder's mechanics.
Unfortunately for Heyward, one of Parrish's most significant flaws during his one season as Atlanta's hitting coach was his inability to deliver his message to his players. But if you were in Heyward's position, how willing would you have been to make the changes the new guy was suggesting?
Here was Heyward, 21 years old, struggling for the first time in his life and knowing that he's just one year removed from what most considered to be a strong rookie season. The last thing he wanted to hear was that it was time to make changes.
Of course, when given a chance to make changes during a Minor League rehab assignment in June, Heyward played just two games before being activated. Given that he had missed the previous three weeks, there is no doubt that he could have benefited from at least a few more days. Before Heyward started making some adjustments in early August, it was plain to see his swing was flawed. In fact, as the summer progressed, visiting scouts opted to substitute "hello" with "What's wrong with Heyward?"
Heyward wondered the same thing at many different points this season. Now, over the next few months, the 22-year-old outfielder has the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments that could allow him to prove why so many of these same scouts wish it was their organization that was dealing with these growing pains.
Do you see the Braves signing Mark DeRosa to be a super-utility type of guy?
-- Jeff M., Lakeland, Fla.
DeRosa's versatility could certainly help the Braves, and there's no doubt he would like to play alongside his good friends Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. His ability to play most of the infield positions and corner outfield positions would give manager Fredi Gonzalez some of the flexibility that he lacked with Brooks Conrad this past season.
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But there are also concerns about DeRosa, who has recorded just 201 plate appearances since suffering a left wrist injury in 2009. He partially tore a tendon in his left wrist again this past May. After returning in early August, he hit .367 with just one extra-base hit (a double) in 49 at-bats.
While some of you might remember DeRosa as a shortstop during the early days of his career, he has made just two appearances (one start) at the position since the start of the 2007 season. Still, as long as he remains healthy, he certainly has the potential to give the Braves bench that it lacked this year.
Do you see the Braves signing Michael Bourn to a multiyear deal?
-- Sandra P., Jacksonville, Fla.
There will likely be some discussions with Bourn's agent, Scott Boras, before the speedy center fielder becomes a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. But as valuable as Bourn has been on the bases the past few years, the Braves would be taking a risk with any multiyear contract provided to a speed guy who would be 30 years old at the start of the his next contract.
Right now, Bourn is in a class by himself among basestealers. His 61 stolen bases this past season were 12 more than any other Major League player, and the 174 stolen bases he has recorded since the start of 2009 are 49 more than any other player's total.
Bourn has remained relatively healthy over the past few years and he could win a third consecutive Gold Glove Award this year. He's not going to to be cheap. The Braves will just have to decide whether they're willing to ante up the money necessary to gamble on the probability that his speed will continue to be a special asset after he goes north of 30 years old.
What should we expect from Martin Prado next year?
-- Mike A., Clemson, S.C.
It's still mind-boggling to think about how badly Prado and McCann struggled during the final weeks of this past season. They were supposed to be the guys the Braves could depend on at anytime throughout the year. But during this season's final two months, they were two of the most glaring holes in the lineup.
When Prado returned from the staph infection that sidelined him for more than a month in June and July, he said it would take him some time to get comfortable again. Unfortunately for the Braves, there was never a stretch during the season's final 10 weeks where he felt comfortable or strong.
Prado admits he lacked aggression at the plate. His swings and some of his reactions in the outfield also seemed to indicate he lacked his normal strength.
Maybe Prado just dealt with too much during one calendar year. He suffered a hip pointer and torn oblique muscle late last season and began an intense rehab program in December. When January arrived and it was time for him to start learning to play the outfield, members of the organization have said they had to pull him off the field.
Prado's intense work ethic allowed him to silence many doubters as he rose to the Majors. But all of these extra hours of work, combined with the effects of the infection, might have proven to be too much.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.