Nearly universally seen as the top positional prospect in the game, Jason Heyward is already making a lot of noise in camp for the Atlanta Braves. He had a strong showing in the Braves' spring training opener, and has been damaging cars during his daily batting-practice showcase. Everybody wants to know whether he'll break camp in the big leagues.
Usually with questions like this, the first consideration isn't talent as much as it is dollars, as teams manage their top prospect's playing time in order to get the one extra year before arbitration and eventually free agency. With Heyward, however, the first consideration just might be Bobby Cox's 2010 swan song.
Last year, Heyward spent a surprising amount of time in the big-league camp. Despite being a teenager coming off a year spent primarily at Low-A, Heyward was still hanging out with the big boys long after most had received their minor league assignments. I talked to someone close to the situation to find out if we were in line for a big surprise, but I was informed that nothing was out of the ordinary and that Heyward would begin the 2009 season at High-A Myrtle Beach. So why was he yet to be assigned? The answer was quite simple. "Frankly, it's just because Bobby Cox likes watching him play so damn much," said the source.
Cox continues to glow about Heyward at every opportunity this year, and with good reason. As long as Heyward doesn't hit .097 for the remainder of the spring schedule, the decision to make him the Opening Day right fielder will be based more on Cox's desires than any other future considerations.
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.