One of the top baseball prospects in America, Jason Heyward is likely to make his Major League debut some time in 2010. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right fielder put up eye-popping numbers at three Minor League stops in 2009, batting a combined .323 with a .408 on-base average and a .555 slugging percentage.
Heyward, who was drafted 14th overall in 2007 out of Henry County High School in McDonough, Ga., has impressed scouts at every level with a precocious sense of plate discipline that bodes well for a successful transition to the big leagues. A poised and confident 20-year-old who will be arriving for his second big league camp with the Braves later this month, Heyward took a few minutes between sessions at the recent Rookie Career Development program to answer some questions:
MLBPLAYERS.com: How did you first fall in love with baseball?
Heyward: I started playing when I was 5 years old, but I'd already been messing around and swinging a bat with my dad from the time I was 2 or 3. It was a period when he was playing softball and we lived in New Jersey. I liked to watch, too, and we had a lot of fun with the game. It was a sport where I could contribute a lot on my own, but it was a team game, too. I just liked to swing the bat, and playing defense was always fun for me, too.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Did your dad influence you to play?
Heyward: He introduced the game to me. He gave it to me as something to do in the summertime to stay out of trouble, and I stuck with it. By the time I was 10, I had decided this was something I wanted to do the rest of my life.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You're big and athletic. Did football or basketball enter the equation for you?
Heyward: I never played organized football. We'd goof off and play games, and I'd be a quarterback or receiver or something like that, and we'd have fun. Basketball I was pretty good at it. I used to play with the guys on the team in high school. It was a lot of fun. The guys liked that. I guess I was a small forward, but I wasn't on the team or anything. I never played organized basketball, either.
MLBPLAYERS.com: The football and basketball coaches weren't after you all the time to suit up for their teams?
Heyward: We won the state championship in baseball in my sophomore year, so I was good after that. The other coaches were like, OK, he's a baseball player. They were upset, but they respected my decision.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Who was your favorite player?
Heyward: Derek Jeter. Because of the way he plays the game. He's captain of the Yankees. He always respects his teammates, on and off the field. But it really comes down to the way he plays the game. He's got that sixth sense out there. He always knows what's going on before anyone else does. It's cool.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What kind of music do you listen to?
Heyward: I like to listen to music. Anything except country, opera and, maybe, heavy-metal rock. I like a pretty big variety. Lately it's been a lot Jay Z, a lot of T.I., a lot of Drake. My walk-out song is "What You Know" by T.I. It's probably going to be with me for quite a while.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Your parents are both Dartmouth grads, right?
Heyward: Yes, my dad's name is Eugene Heyward Jr. He's an electronics engineer, and he works for ITT Industries on the Air Force base in Warner Robins, Ga. My mom, Laura Heyward, is a quality analyst for Georgia Power.
MLBPLAYERS.com: How about college? Was there an expectation that you would attend college?
Heyward: I was heavily recruited -- Clemson, Georgia Tech and UCLA -- and I had decided on UCLA. But, as far as the draft goes and whether to turn professional, my parents left the decision to me. We did our homework. They helped get me into a school, but whether to sign or not was left up to me.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Out of all of the amazing numbers you've put up in the Minors, the thing that jumps out is that you have tremendous patience. How did you develop your plate discipline?
Heyward: I began working on it really young. Fortunately for me, we had a coach who knew something about the game. His name was Ricky Archer. We had a lot of little drills. For some, we didn't even have a bat in our hands. We'd just watch pitches and learn to recognize them from the different spins and we'd have to say "strike" or "ball" let him know if it was in the strike zone. It went on and on over time, and we all became more comfortable at the plate that way.
MLBPLAYERS.com: With all of the notoriety you've already received and all of the honors and awards, how do you keep yourself humble?
Heyward: This is life. You receive gifts from God that can be taken away just as easily as they've been given to you. Baseball is a humbling game, anyway. You fail seven out of 10 times and you're a Hall of Famer, but a lot of it comes down to how well you handle the seven times you fail. That's what makes the player. That's what builds character, and that's what can expose a character flaw. Personally, I don't dwell on anything that happens -- good or bad. I take what I can from something, I try to learn, then I move on to the next at-bat or defensive play.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What did you learn last Spring Training that might help as you prepare for this year's camp?
Heyward: It was fun. I learned a lot about the game -- physically playing the game on the field -- but I also got to know a lot of guys on the club, the coaches and the training staff and the organization. You always want to be a good teammate, so you begin to understand what that entails at this level, too. I'm going to go about it the same way this year -- just go out every day and have fun, learn more. I want to put myself in position to help the club.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.