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Andy Behrens

5U: Jason Heyward will be Atlanta's Opening Day right fielder

Andy Behrens
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Atlanta's Jason Heyward(notes) won't turn 21 until August, and his employer has a few million reasons to keep him in the minors for a month or two. But the Braves have decided that Heyward is their right fielder of now, not simply their right fielder of the future. Baseball's top hitting prospect will open the season in the majors, as an everyday player.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien, the conversation between Heyward and manager Bobby Cox began like this:

Cox said he told Heyward: "I’m delighted to tell you you’re on the team, Jason, simply because you make us a better team."

Heyward is batting .366 this spring with four doubles, one homer, nine walks, three steals and thousands of dollars in property damage. In 2009, he hit .323 with 17 homers and 10 stolen bases across three minor league levels. There's clearly a lot to like here for fantasy purposes, and the Braves are unquestionably a better team with Heyward in the lineup. Cox himself has offered bold comparisons:

Cox says the ball sounds different coming off Heyward's bat. It's a familiar sound, but one Cox says he has not heard in a long time.

"There's a little sound off the bat," Cox said. "His line drives are kind of like ol' Hank Aaron's sound."

At Heyward's current average draft position (228.4), he's essentially a no-risk pick. If he fails – seems unlikely, but he's only 20 – then you'll only need to replace an outfielder. That's hardly an impossible task. If nothing else, Heyward is a tremendous fantasy trade chip. Ignore him at your own peril.

You need to realize, however, that Heyward is also uncommonly young for his level. When Aaron was 20, he hit .280 with 13 home runs in 509 plate appearances. Willie Mays hit .274 with 20 homers and seven steals as a 20-year-old. If Heyward can simply tread water and post league-average fantasy totals, you should be impressed.

Ben Sheets(notes) has had a brutal spring thus far (8.2 IP, 20 H, 16 ER, 5 BB), and he wasn't exactly dazzling against a Triple-A lineup on Thursday. He pitched six innings against Fresno, allowing three runs, nine hits and one walk. Sheets struck out only three batters, though he reportedly hit 92 mph on the gun. You shouldn't simply ignore him in drafts, but it wouldn't be such a bad idea to bench him during the early starts.

Brad Lidge(notes) (knee, elbow) is not expected to make a Grapefruit League appearance this spring. He'll apparently be limited to minor league work. Earlier this week, Lidge allowed a run and two hits in one inning against various Double-A Pirates. His four-seam fastball reportedly didn't hit 90, but "he said that's typical in his early spring-training outings." Ryan Madson(notes) will get early save opportunities for the Phillies while Lidge continues to search for another five or six miles per hour.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty refers to Aroldis Chapman's(notes) back spasms as "just a minor setback." But Jocketty also told the Cincinnati Enquirer that "[Chapman's] probably not going to have time to get stretched out (by the start of the season)."

The Enquirer likes either Mike Leake(notes) or Travis Wood(notes) to begin the year as the Reds' fifth starter. Wood is a 23-year-old lefty who delivered impressive fantasy ratios (1.77, 1.04) at Double-A and Triple-A in '09, while striking out 135 batters in 167.2 innings. Leake, of course, is one of our pet players. The right-hander was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, and last year's collegiate numbers were Strasburgian: 16-1, 1.71 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 24 BB, 162 Ks, 142.0 IP. Both pitchers have posted excellent spring stats. Thus, the battle rages on.

For a long time, I've known that David Brown was awesome. But I had no idea that Heath Bell(notes) was similarly awesome. Do yourself a favor and check out the latest Answer Man over at Big League Stew. Here's a free sample:

Bell: But I definitely believe in UFOs and the government … You know in "Men in Black," how the toaster's been patented and TVs? I do believe that's alien technology.

DB: The toaster?

Bell: I'm just giving you an example from "Men in Black" where they say the patent from the toaster and 8-track player is from alien technology. I believe that computers are from aliens.

DB: You're not giving us humans much credit.

Bell: We're not very bright.

Kudos to DB for asking the tough questions, like "Do you have an opinion on Jayson Werth's(notes) beard?" and "Do you like to break stuff?"

They also discuss Bell's Yahoo! preseason fantasy ranking. Heath seems pleased.

• Bonus blurb, 3:55 pm CT: Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reports that Jason Frasor(notes) has the edge in the Toronto closer battle. Frasor's name has been attached to various trade rumors this spring, and this news does nothing to drive down his price. Here's Jays manager Cito Gaston, via Bastian:

"It's still up in the air, but Frasor was my closer last year. He hasn't really done anything to lose that opportunity."

Kevin Gregg(notes) has followed an unimpressive 2009 (4.72 ERA, 1.31 WHIP) with an equally unimpressive spring (5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 K). Frasor hasn't exactly been dominant, but he's pitched scoreless innings in five of his six spring appearances.

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