Starting from scratch is never easy, especially if you’re a professional baseball player. Even more so if your a player who’s essentially learning to swing a bat all over again. That’s been the story for Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season. While the Cubs did win their first World Series in over 100 years in 2016, Heyward’s contributions were mostly from the defensive side of things. Not exactly what the franchise was looking for after signing him to an eight-year, $184 million contract in December of 2015.
The Cubs gave him that contract based on his production in the batters box with both the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals between 2010 and 2015. During that time Heyward hit 97 total home runs and racked up 352 total RBI’s. His OPS during those years was well above .700, He had 20 or more doubles in each of those seasons, and he had 86 total stolen bases as well. His first season as Cub however left much to be desired. He posted a subpar .230/.306/.325 slash line with just seven home runs, 49 runs batted in, only 11 stolen bases, and an OPS of .631.
After the Cubs celebrated their championship victory, Heyward decided to spend this past offseason at the Cubs spring training complex in Arizona to create a new swing. The hope is that adjusting his approach at the plate will help him regain his offensive form in 2017. Roughly a month into spring training, that new swing is still a work in progress. In 12 Cactus Leagues games, Heyward has a modest .156/.250/.313 slash line to go with an OPS of .563. He also has just one home run and six RBI’s.
Granted 12 games is somewhat of a small sample size, but Cubs fans were hoping to see more out of Heyward in Arizona. Despite that however, Heyward believes and both he and the Cubs can handle anything that’ll be thrown their way in the season ahead.
“It’s all about how you handle that as an individual and as a group,” he said in an interview with The Daily Herald. “We handled that the best out of anyone last year as a team, and that’s why we were able to win the World Series,” he continued.
While there’s no doubting that the Cubs are talented all across the board at both major and minor league levels, a strong offensive output from Heyward this year puts the Cubs in a much better position to repeat as champions. There are 17 games left on the exhibition schedule so he’ll get more at-bats down the stretch to perfect his new swing. The important thing is that Heyward has put in the time and effort make the necessary changes for improvement. Let’s just hope that the work translates to results once the calendar switches to April.