Heyward the best thing to happen to right field in years
Not since the days of Andre Dawson can Cubs fans get as excited about the guy patrolling right field at Wrigley Field.
It looked like it wasn't going to be that way for a time this winter.
When Jason Heyward signed his eight-year, $184 million free-agent contract with the Cubs in December, he looked to be ticketed for center field, not his customary right.
But the surprise spring-training re-signing of Dexter Fowler to play center enabled the Cubs to move Heyward back to right.
That's a good thing.
Heyward is a three-time Gold Glove winner -- in 2012 and 2014 with Atlanta and last year for the St. Louis Cardinals.
He seemed more than prepared at the beginning of spring training to embrace the challenge of center field even though he's at home in right.
"Right field is pretty much me," he said. "I'm good there."
Heyward made a grand total of 3 errors in right last year after making just 1 the previous season in Atlanta. He possesses a strong arm and range in right.
But the Cubs didn't sign Heyward just to play defense. They got him to provide leadership and produce with the bat.
He had a batting line of .293/.359/.439 in 154 games last year with 13 homers and 60 RBI. His on-base percentage of .359 was his best since a .393 mark during his rookie season in 2010 with the Braves. The Cubs would love more power; Heyward's career high in homers (27) came in 2012, but they figure to get plenty of that from the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.
Heyward experienced a big jump in his groundball rate from 2014 to 2015, as it went from 45.5 percent to 57.2. His flyball percentage dropped from 35.6 percent to 23.5.
The Cubs haven't been too hung up on stats when it comes to Heyward. They like what he brings in baseball smarts. He's been a good fit in the clubhouse, as he was last year in his only year with the Cardinals, who pride themselves on playing the game "right."
"That's what was cool about being in St. Louis," he said. "I fit right in with that, with that mold: just being myself, thinking the game, always trying to be a few steps ahead. Derek Jeter was always one of my favorite players growing up, and he always had that sixth sense on the field, and it's just something I took a liking to right away and saw how it helped him."
The way Joe Maddon manages the Cubs, it's not out of the question that Heyward will see a little bit of time in center field.
The re-signing of Fowler displaced Jorge Soler from right field. Soler now moves to left to share time with Kyle Schwarber. The team's website lists Soler as the backup right fielder with second baseman Ben Zobrist third on the depth chart.
Top NL right fieldersBruce Miles ranks the top National League right fielders
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
2. Jason Heyward, CUBS
3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies