In Atlanta, Jason Heyward is the new face of the future (cont.)
Wellman says that Heyward is neither especially vocal nor timid. In a word, he's steady.
"We're always looking for weaknesses we can develop. In all honesty, I've spent two months looking for things we can work on, and it sounds crazy, but I can't find any," Wellman said. "That's a credit to his ability to make adjustments. He's very cerebral. He'll strike out twice on changeups, and I'll say, 'Now maybe there's something.' And the next time up, he'll hit a 2-0 changeup 500 feet.
"Playing on a team with 23-, 24- and 25-year-olds, I think he's been given that respect because of the way he handles himself, like a professional. For a kid who just turned 20, he's very mature.
"It's obvious that he's been raised in a great environment. Both parents went to Dartmouth. I have a daughter who is 20, and he doesn't have those silly tendencies. He's articulate and well-mannered. The apple didn't fall far from the tree, and he's obviously got a great tree."
In spite of the surface similarities between Heyward and Francoeur, when you break it down, differences are there. The biggest by far comes in their approach at the plate. Francoeur is one of the game's great free swingers, with just 132 career walks in 2,819 plate appearances. He has struck out 503 times.
Heyward? Not so much.
In fact, scouts had difficulty pinning down his skills as a hitter when he was in high school because so many opponents pitched around him -- and he rarely went fishing for balls out of the zone. For this, Braves scouting director Roy Clark will be eternally grateful, because it allowed Heyward to slip to the 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Heyward's value has changed since then, but his patience has not. In fact, it has improved as he moved to Double-A. In his first 188 minor league games, Heyward walked 75 times and struck out 117. In 44 games with Mississippi, he walked 27 times and struck out 16. As pitchers get more cerebral, so does he.
"Good hitters do a good job of commanding their strike zone, swing at strikes and take the balls. He had an advanced ability, baseball maturity, strike-zone discipline," Kemp said. "I talked with him a little bit about that at Mississippi, how different pitchers were. You can see the maturity just in his answers.
"A certain number of teams that are going to see him more than once have a different plan for him. He understands he has to get good pitches to hit. He has a good hitting plan, making adjustments at-bat to at-bat."
Simplistic though it may be, the biggest difference between Francoeur and Heyward could be that Francoeur takes a football mentality to the plate: attack, attack, attack. Heyward's plan: wait, bait and bash.
No surprise. At Parkview, Francoeur was one of the top high school football players in Georgia, signing a letter of intent to play at Clemson after helping lead his school to consecutive state titles in the big school classification.
That may have worked against him. High school football is a very big deal in the Peach State, and because of that Francoeur drew plenty of publicity before even graduating. Hence, heightened expectations when the Braves called him up. Not every hometown player will arrive with such a heavy weight on his shoulders.
"I think every player is different," Wren said. "Take Brian McCann [also a metro Atlanta product]. He was in a different spot than Jeff Francoeur. I think part of the situation with Jeff is people had heard of him while he was playing high school football in Atlanta. Probably prior to us drafting Jason Heyward, very few fans had heard of him. One got a great deal of media coverage and one did not."
Yet if you're looking for something instructive to have come out of Francoeur's path through the Braves organization, something team officials are using to light the way for Heyward, you might be searching for a while.
"You can look at somebody like Chipper Jones, a former first-round draft choice who came in with high expectations and has carved out a very nice career," Kemp said. "He's not a hometown guy, but I'd rather look at it as a comparison of two first-rounders than two hometown guys."
There's one other notable difference between Heyward and these other players that people may be shy about pointing out: Heyward is black. Should he one day surpass the nebulous threshold that defines a franchise player for the Braves, he could be a megawatt black baseball star in one of the nation's most desirable cities for African-Americans. The Braves haven't produced their own black star since David Justice was drafted in 1985.
One need only look at the NFL's Falcons to see how big a deal it was to have a black quarterback in Michael Vick before he got into trouble with the law. When Vick disappeared from the NFL for a couple of years, the Falcons' season-ticket base sank like a rock.
The number of African-American players in the major leagues dwindled to 8.2 percent two years ago (though it was above 10 percent last year) versus about 28 percent in 1977, when the Yankees won the World Series with a lineup that usually featured six black players.
Heyward could offer a booster shot in this regard. Yes, Heyward's agent, Victor Menocal, has given this plenty of thought.
"We definitely feel that with all respect to McCann and those guys, that Jason can be the face of that organization in the future," Menocal said. "He wants to give back to the community.
"I think with the percentage of African-Americans in the major leagues now being low, that definitely is important to Jason. Obviously being in Atlanta, I think it will help. If you look at him and you have the likes of Hank Aaron, Terry Pendleton and David Justice before him, he's the up-and-coming prospect."
You might expect a barely 20-year-old kid just two-plus years out of high school to stumble and stutter when asked about the prospects of being a hometown hero and franchise player, and how the juxtaposition of all that and being an African-American in Atlanta might bring pressures for which there is no training. Heyward has thought about it. He has not dwelled upon it.
"As far as playing for the hometown, that's a privilege and something not everybody gets to do," he said. "There are some things that are going to come from a business standpoint that will make it tougher than others. But whether it's my hometown or wherever, I've got to go out and it's just baseball; it's a game. I've got to remember why I started playing the game, because I have fun.
"The stage gets bigger, more people get to watch you, or you're on TV. That stuff's all fun, but players get to go out there and have fun and represent themselves."