Heyward making noise in Florida

Here's this week's Braves column from the Macon Telegraph.

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Every spring there is a phenom - a baseball player that makes headlines, causes a stir amongst the fans, and draws comparisons to greats of the game.

Jason Heyward is way beyond that.

He is, in fact, the talk of baseball. Fans are coming to see the kid. Scouts are coming to see him. And even people in uniforms wonder how good this kid from Henry County might be as a big leaguer.

Heyward is a beast of a man. Well, make that a beast of a young man. He's only 20 years old, and you just don't see many young men built like Heyward. He's 6-5 and 248 pounds. It's not 248 pounds going to the buffet. That's 248 pounds of a solid athlete that you just don't see very often.

It was logical to wonder if a kid that won't turn 21 until August would be ready to break camp with the Braves as the opening day right fielder. But forget about the drama. Heyward is making that the last question you have to answer.

On April 5 when the Braves open the season against the Chicago Cubs, a kid from 30 miles south of Turner Field will be the starting right fielder.

Bank on it.

Sure, the Braves could wait and get another year before Heyward would be eligible for arbitration, or wait even longer and postpone when Heyward would be eligible for free agency. They did that last year with Tommy Hanson, but they won't do it now.

Heyward is ready. He's hitting .455 in spring training, but that's the least of the factors to consider. He acts like he's ready. And sometimes you just can look at a player and know he's ready to be a big leaguer.

It would have been easy to think he was ready after seeing his mammoth home run in Lakeland last Friday. Stories will be told about that shot for years to come. Some say it went 450 feet, while others swear it went 500 feet.

But while that's the only home run Heyward has hit, it's not the only thing he's hit hard. He hits everything hard. He's not going to get many bloop hits in his career. Heyward will be lucky if he doesn't hurt anyone.

The kid is just scary good. You watch him hit batting practice and you see line drives all over the field, and then when he hits one out, it goes a long way.

Ask Braves assistant GM Bruce Manno. His car was parked beyond the right field fence earlier this month and after Heyward got into one, Manno needed a new sunroof.

Heyward is a legit five-tool player. You don't see those often. Usually a player might have four solid tools, but is lacking in one area. Heyward can hit, hit for power, run, play defense, and has a great throwing arm. That's why we've heard comparisons to some of the best players to ever play the game. You just don't see many players with this build and with this many tools.

Heyward is the consensus top prospect in baseball, and he's arguably the best prospect the Braves have ever had. Chipper Jones was delayed a year after tearing his ACL in 1994, so his luster was worn off a bit. Andruw Jones had a great season in Macon in 1995, and he was less than a year away from the majors.

But Heyward may be better than that.

Even though Heyward is a great prospect, he is going to be a rookie. We've got to remember that. But what's scary is Heyward has the mental approach that makes you believe he can handle it. That's what separates a lot of young players from doing well in their rookie seasons and falling back.

It's just going to be fun to see what type of impact Heyward has in the Atlanta lineup. Who knows if he'll hit 20 home runs this season, but it's likely he'll be a threat. You can't be that big and not be a threat. And if he is, will manager Bobby Cox move him up in the lineup during the season?

It was easy to wonder if Heyward might need time in the minors to start the season, but a comment from an Atlanta executive pretty much nailed it for me.

"Heyward might be the best player on our (Atlanta) team right now," he said.

And the scary thing is, he might be right.

Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly column for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.

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