The Dodgers have latched onto the little indicators of progress this spring, the promising moments when Jason Heyward’s new-look, retooled and continued “work in progress” swing, as supervisor Dave Roberts referred to as it, has appeared extra like a completed product on the plate.
Corresponding to when the veteran outfielder hit two residence runs within the first week of spring coaching.
Or throughout stay batting observe periods firstly of camp, when he laced line drive singles the opposite approach.
Freddie Freeman began to consider all the best way again in January, when he and Heyward hit collectively for the primary time this offseason at Freeman’s outdated El Modena Excessive area in Orange County, taking flips from Freeman’s dad, Fred, and launching them across the outfield.
“His first ball was a missile off the center-field wall,” Freeman, a longtime good friend of Heyward’s going again to their days as younger gamers with the Atlanta Braves, recalled. “It was the sound you heard 15 years in the past, the place you’re like, ‘Wow, this man is particular.’ ”
It’s been sufficient for Heyward, who signed a minor league cope with the Dodgers this winter, to lock down a probable spot on the membership’s opening day crew.
Despite the fact that his camp efficiency has tailed off the final a number of weeks, and he stays no assure to supply throughout the common season, it seems more and more clear he’ll have a job to play within the Dodgers outfield in 2023.
“I feel it’s a secure wager,” Roberts mentioned of Heyward’s possibilities of making the foremost league crew. “He’s come to spring coaching with this new revamped swing that, it appears to be like like he’s performed it for a very long time.”
Heyward’s mechanics have undergone a significant makeover from final yr, when extended offensive struggles and a nagging knee harm led the Chicago Cubs to launch him with one season left on an eight-year, $184-million deal.
His palms are actually decrease and additional again in his setup stance. His bat path is shorter and flatter than it was. And when all the pieces has clicked, he’s been in a position to cowl extra elements of the plate and modify to off-speed pitches, key components throughout his auspicious four-for-10 begin to Cactus League play.
“I’ve been engaged on that stuff piece by piece,” mentioned Heyward, who frolicked within the winter working with Dodgers hitting coaches in Los Angeles and at their Camelback Ranch facility in Arizona. “Working with the group, attempting to place my finest foot ahead.”
That, Heyward did shortly, making the most of a center-field void created this offseason when the Dodgers non-tendered Cody Bellinger and got here up brief for Kevin Kiermaier in free company.
The crew signed two different left-handed-hitting veterans to minor league offers, Steven Duggar and Bradley Zimmer, and has a prime prospect pushing for an MLB spot in James Outman. However to this point, it’s Heyward who’s main the group, combining his veteran poise and five-time Gold Glove protection with simply sufficient offensive potential to separate himself from the pack.
“It’s not stunning once you’re speaking in regards to the character,” Roberts mentioned. “From the day we signed him, he dedicated to working with our hitting guys from that time on, diligently. … Flying out to Arizona. Flying out to Los Angeles. Ensuring issues have been cleaned up.”
Nonetheless, with opening day simply two weeks away, many enhancements in Heyward’s swing stay to be made.
Since that sizzling begin to the spring, the 33-year-old has cooled off dramatically. He entered Thursday one for his final 16 in exhibitions. He has struck out eight instances in 14 at-bats whereas wanting late on fastballs and chasing pitches off the plate.
Roberts has downplayed the sudden regression.
“I don’t suppose that anybody anticipated it to be linear,” the supervisor mentioned. “I feel he began off rather well, after which he hit a bit chilly spell, and is working by some issues.”
Heyward described it as being a part of the method of his long-term swing change — a byproduct of attempting to switch previous short-term fixes with extra basic alterations to his sport.
“At instances, you are inclined to do issues the place, you’re placing a Band-Assist on stuff and also you need to get a fast outcome,” Heyward mentioned. “However when you might have capacity, you need to faucet into that. That’s what I’m attempting to do.”
Nonetheless, precisely how a lot capacity Heyward has left, and the way properly he can extract it earlier than the beginning of the season, might be a key subplot to the Dodgers’ upcoming marketing campaign.
Initially, Heyward appeared set for a bench position backing up Chris Taylor in heart, more likely to platoon in opposition to right-handed pitchers and supply defensive versatility late in video games.
However within the wake of Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee harm, and the necessity for Taylor to now play extra shortstop, Heyward might be set for a fair larger position than most initially anticipated.
“If he can nonetheless keep within the strike zone and proceed to work on that swing, clear that swing up, he’s gonna be high-quality,” Roberts mentioned. “We’re nonetheless excited in regards to the trajectory.”