Your sophomore slump is in the past, so carry on Jason Heyward

      February 1, 2012 @ 15:11:13 PDT

Last week I discussed the impact that major injuries have on a fantasy baseball player's stock, specifically two high-profile tossers. Poor statistical performances from players with high expectations can have a very similar effect.

Case in point: Jason Heyward. This kid was basically a hitting God before he even took a hack at a major league pitch; his 2010 spring training, and the advanced approach at the plate that he displayed, was making everyone drool over the then 20-year-old lefty outfielder.

He didn't disappoint in his maiden voyage; in 520 at-bats, Heyward hit 18 home runs, drove in 72 runs and posted a .277 average. He also chipped in 11 stolen bases and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Buster Posey.

Not bad for a rook, but it was obvious that he had more to offer. Everyone was expecting even gaudier numbers in his sophomore stanza. Sadly, many fantasy baseball players were let down - and so was Heyward. He battled thumb, foot and shoulder ailments throughout the season and hit just .227 with 42 RBIs and 14 HRs.

So many were ready to anoint Heyward as the next Willie Mays, and the nickname the J-Hey kid was even tossed around frequently after his rookie year. Now, as we approach the 2012 season, there is skepticism that he'll be the real deal. The sub-.250 batting average has many changing their tune. Should you?

Mock Draft Central shows Heyward as the 109th overall player off the board in early '12 mock drafts. Outfielders like Michael Bourn, Adam L. Jones, Alex Gordon, Corey Hart, Cameron Maybin, Ichiro Suzuki and Michael Cuddyer are being grabbed ahead of him.

My advice: although concerning, don't let last year's output discourage you from investing in Heyward's long-term skills. You wouldn't want to miss out on a potential top-15 mixed league commodity. Pretty sure you can't say that about Ichiro, Cuddyer, or most of the other flycatchers listed above.

Heyward was grossly overhyped from the get-go, so it shouldn't be a shock that he underperformed his expectations in just his second year. His shoulder injury, which required a DL stint in late May, played a huge part in his struggles. Heyward admitted that it restricted his swing and didn't allow him to properly extend. He also developed bad habits while playing through pain. The lack of consistency and power that this created led to a timeshare with overachieving Jose Constanza down the stretch. At that point, it was too late for him to fight through the pain and become comfy in the box.

He has often been described as mature beyond his years, both physically and with his mental approach to the game. Perhaps this is why the Bravos didn't hesitate to name him a starter in '10 despite the fact that he had just 13 plate appearances at Class AAA previously. A combination of lack of experience and injuries led to Heyward's 2011 downfall.

Heyward's body type seems to make him susceptible to the nagging injuries more so than other performers. It's highly probable he's still growing into his oversized frame. "I wasn't feeling like myself," Heyward said. "I didn't feel that I could make my body do what my mind wanted to do. I wanted to make sure I have that feel, that control again."

It turns out he isn't immune to failure and having to make adjustments on the fly. So what did he do this offseason?

He's focused. Heyward has put an emphasis on strengthening his body (his shoulder mostly), becoming better conditioned, slimming down, watching his diet, focusing on his mental approach and retooling his swing.

Reports in spring training that he's in the best shape of his life will probably surface, causing many to overlook the fact that he has started from scratch in trying to improve his swing mechanics. This is significant for a guy that is facing adversity for the first time in his pro career - and he's putting in the hard work to make the necessary adjustments. Chipper Jones is in his corner, too, which can't hurt.

Tangible results of Heyward's reshaped swing and improved health won't be evident until ST action kicks off, but you can still take advantage of his poor '11 in upcoming drafts. It would behoove you to do so.

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About Keith Hernandez

Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.

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