A few years back, I wrote about the strange dynamic that was the first 100 or so games of Matt Wieters' career in Baltimore. While the catcher's mid-2009 arrival in Charm City was greeted with horns played across the baseball universe, it didn't take long for Wieters' parade to move on. Some of that was due to Wieters' "failure" to imitate Johnny Bench straight out of the gate, but a lot of it was due to our extremely short attention spans. There's never any shortage of next big things in the minor leagues and we simply wheeled our hype machines toward other prospects like Stephen Strasburg once Wieters refused to place in the MVP voting over his first 96 games.
Was it fair? Of course not. Was it a great reflection of the way we watch and follow baseball in the Internet era? Absolutely. We tend to chew up and digest storylines so quickly that you really have to post Mike Trout-type numbers if you're a top prospect looking to hold real estate in our collective conscious for any real length of time.
Case in point: One of those players who supplanted Wieters — Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward — has already been exiled himself into the outer reaches of the non-Braves fan mind. While Heyward had a better rookie campaign than Wieters — he posted better first-year numbers than Henry Aaron and finished second to Buster Posey in a tight NL ROY race — all it took was a sophomore slump for him to be relegated to afterthought status.
It's here where I should mention that Jason Heyward turned all of 23 years old on Thursday. Heyward hasn't yet become a MVP candidate on a pretty good Braves team, nor has he posted the type of big power numbers we thought might be possible when he was bombing the team's spring training parking lot and homering off Carlos Zambrano in his first career at-bat. But he's certainly recovered from his awful 2011 when he struggled with injury while posting a .708 OPS that had him being publicly doubted by Chipper Jones.
Through 108 games, the right fielder in a defensive end's body has posted a line of .269/.344/.477 with 18 homers and 54 RBIs. That's as many homers as he hit during 142 games in his rookie season and it gives him an OPS+ of 119. His UZR of 13.2 in right field is second in baseball only to Ichiro's 14.9. He's a good young baseball player who was worthy of the initial wave of attention and will be deserving of more in the years to come.
That's not to say there isn't room for improvement, especially if he wants to take that leap to being the Braves' face of the franchise once Chipper leaves at the end of the season. His strikeout rates in 2012 are the highest of his three-year career while his walk rate is the lowest. Heyward says he expects his approach to improve even more as his relationship with first-year hitting coach Greg Walker continues to grow.
Walker was a big part of that plan. One of his main qualifications for taking over as hitting coach was coming up with a strategy for what to do about the scuffling right fielder. His first step in that process was lunch.
"I bought that day," Walker said. "I told him, 'At the end of the year, we're going to come back and we're going to have a lunch and next time you're going to buy.'"
They ate steaks at Chops in Buckhead, no small investment. When they go back, they'll be reminded just how far they've come.
"It feels like we're onto something," Heyward said.
Maybe Heyward and Walker are on to something. Maybe they aren't. But whatever ends up happening, the ongoing maturation of the young Braves outfielder deserves a longer time in the spotlight than we gave it the first time around.