Heyward leads pack of breakout hitters

Starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman aren’t the only youngsters drawing rave reviews early in spring training.

The way Jason Heyward has impressed, he could be a star before he plays his first regular season game. He is just one of a handful of young hitters hoping to use March as a springboard into a major role:

Jason Heyward has impressed the Braves with his overall game.
Jason Heyward has impressed the Braves with his overall game.

Jason Heyward, RF, Braves
Heyward came to camp with a chance to win the right field job. After a week of game action, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t begin the season in the Braves’ outfield. The 20-year-old has impressed the Braves with his hitting, plate discipline, fielding, baserunning and humility. The 6-4, 245-pounder had six hits — one a thunderous homer — six walks and only one strikeout in his first 21 plate appearances.

"He does a lot of stuff right," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It’s amazing to me. We’ll see what happens."

"The way he carries himself on and off the field, he’s different from any other young kid I’ve ever seen," hitting coach Terry Pendleton said.

For example, Heyward remains unfazed by the media attention.

"I’ve been asked a lot of questions this spring," he said. "They will ask, ‘What about the hype around you?’ I say, ‘Well you guys are the hype around me. You guys are asking the questions every day, you guys are bringing it to me.’ I’m not feeling any hype because I’m just playing baseball. I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing, the same thing I set out to do. That’s what I’m prepared to do."

Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers
The Tigers named the 23-year-old their starting center fielder upon his arrival in the Curtis Granderson trade, and he hasn’t disappointed. Thrust into the leadoff spot, Jackson, 23, had a homer, a stolen base and a .667 on-base percentage in his first six games this spring. "It’s a good feeling to know that you have a good opportunity," said Jackson.

Sean Rodriguez, 2B, Rays
With three homers in his first 14 at-bats, Rodriguez made his statement in a battle among three Rays for one starting job. Rodriguez, 24, acquired from the Angels in last August’s Scott Kazmir deal, is competing with Reid Brignac, 24, for the second base job. The competition has brought out the best in Brignac, too. He had seven hits in his first 14 at-bats. Right fielder Matt Joyce also is off to a strong start and remains in the picture, too. The Rays plan to use Ben Zobrist in right or second, depending on the play of the three youngsters.

Julio Borbon hit well down the 2009 stretch for the Rangers.
Julio Borbon hit well down the 2009 stretch for the Rangers.

Julio Borbon, CF, Rangers
After his call-up last August, Borbon played well enough that Texas moved Josh Hamilton out of center to make a home for the speedster. He hit .312 and stole 19 bases in 46 games last season and was with the Rangers down the stretch.

"Having a taste from last year is a big step for me," said Borbon, 24. "I will go into this year knowing I can perform."

Borbon, a lefthanded hitter, didn’t play much against lefthanders last season (2-for-16) but won’t be babied this season.

"Julio doesn’t need to look over his shoulder," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He’s going to get a chance. There will be no leash on him."

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman aren’t the only youngsters drawing rave reviews early in spring training.

The way Jason Heyward has impressed, he could be a star before he plays his first regular season game. He is just one of a handful of young hitters hoping to use March as a springboard into a major role:

Jason Heyward has impressed the Braves with his overall game.
Jason Heyward has impressed the Braves with his overall game.

Jason Heyward, RF, Braves
Heyward came to camp with a chance to win the right field job. After a week of game action, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t begin the season in the Braves’ outfield. The 20-year-old has impressed the Braves with his hitting, plate discipline, fielding, baserunning and humility. The 6-4, 245-pounder had six hits — one a thunderous homer — six walks and only one strikeout in his first 21 plate appearances.

"He does a lot of stuff right," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It’s amazing to me. We’ll see what happens."

"The way he carries himself on and off the field, he’s different from any other young kid I’ve ever seen," hitting coach Terry Pendleton said.

For example, Heyward remains unfazed by the media attention.

"I’ve been asked a lot of questions this spring," he said. "They will ask, ‘What about the hype around you?’ I say, ‘Well you guys are the hype around me. You guys are asking the questions every day, you guys are bringing it to me.’ I’m not feeling any hype because I’m just playing baseball. I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing, the same thing I set out to do. That’s what I’m prepared to do."

Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers
The Tigers named the 23-year-old their starting center fielder upon his arrival in the Curtis Granderson trade, and he hasn’t disappointed. Thrust into the leadoff spot, Jackson, 23, had a homer, a stolen base and a .667 on-base percentage in his first six games this spring. "It’s a good feeling to know that you have a good opportunity," said Jackson.

Sean Rodriguez, 2B, Rays
With three homers in his first 14 at-bats, Rodriguez made his statement in a battle among three Rays for one starting job. Rodriguez, 24, acquired from the Angels in last August’s Scott Kazmir deal, is competing with Reid Brignac, 24, for the second base job. The competition has brought out the best in Brignac, too. He had seven hits in his first 14 at-bats. Right fielder Matt Joyce also is off to a strong start and remains in the picture, too. The Rays plan to use Ben Zobrist in right or second, depending on the play of the three youngsters.

Julio Borbon hit well down the 2009 stretch for the Rangers.
Julio Borbon hit well down the 2009 stretch for the Rangers.

Julio Borbon, CF, Rangers
After his call-up last August, Borbon played well enough that Texas moved Josh Hamilton out of center to make a home for the speedster. He hit .312 and stole 19 bases in 46 games last season and was with the Rangers down the stretch.

"Having a taste from last year is a big step for me," said Borbon, 24. "I will go into this year knowing I can perform."

Borbon, a lefthanded hitter, didn’t play much against lefthanders last season (2-for-16) but won’t be babied this season.

"Julio doesn’t need to look over his shoulder," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He’s going to get a chance. There will be no leash on him."

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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