In Atlanta, Jason Heyward is the new face of the future (cont.)
Wren may not want to compare Heyward to other players. He's less hesitant about the implications of having a potential black hometown superstar, even if he doesn't quite sound like he's started building a marketing plan around the idea.
"It is undeniable that we have lost a large number of African-American players to other sports," he said. "I think it helps us as a sport to have African-Americans as star players. I think that will help African-American players in the Atlanta area want to be baseball players. But I've never heard our fans talk about a player's race or ethnicity. They're just Braves, and we want to have good players."
Right on Track
For all the oohing and aahing over Heyward's patient, measured approach, he had an interesting answer when asked if he believes he's on track -- his track.
"I didn't really have a schedule mapped out as far as what team I would be on when," he said. "I just set out to have myself ready to play the best I can in the majors in 2009. I do feel like if they say, 'Hey Jason, come up,' I've done the best I could."
Heyward has done quite well, but there is no guarantee he'll hit the big leagues this year.
Kemp says that when the Braves put together Heyward's developmental plan after he signed for $1.7 million in 2007, the goal was for him to spend all or most of the 2008 season in one place rather than move him up quickly. They wanted to give him a chance to settle into a routine and formulate his own methods for dealing with the rigors of baseball as a day-in/day-out job rather than a hobby.
He was in low Class A Rome most of the '08 season, moving to Myrtle Beach only for a few games and the playoffs at the end of the summer. This season, the Braves moved him to Mississippi in July, and at some point soon -- whether for a cameo in September or next year -- he's certain to make the jump to Atlanta.
Kemp doesn't think the jump will faze Heyward. "I think about that. I think the really good ones cherish that, look forward to being on the big stage," Kemp said. "You saw the way he fit in spring training. Sometimes when we do that, guys have kind of a wild look to them for a while. Jason in spring training fit in right away.
"I think the really good ones really look forward to the challenge of facing the best, and being the best, and I see that in Jason. I think he's looking forward to the day when that happens. I don't think he's going to put any additional pressure on himself."
Wren wouldn't touch the subject of a call-up, but he offered the kind of summary judgment that every player would like to have on his scouting report:
"I don't think there's any doubt that he is that kind of guy. He's the kind of guy who can change a game," Wren said. "We could put him at any of the three outfield spots at the major league level, and he could play them. He has speed -- if you watch him from first to third, even if you were a novice, you're going to be impressed.
"He has bat speed. I would venture to say there were not many guys in our camp this spring that hit the ball as hard as Jason. And he's a good baseball player. It's one of the higher compliments. It sounds simplistic, but to people in the industry it's the highest compliment. He is a good baseball player."
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