GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Freddie Freeman enters his second season with the Dodgers now a familiar clubhouse face, in camp early with his commitment to play for his parents’ native Canada in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. A year ago, he was the new guy; now, he welcomes a new teammate to Dodger blue -- one whom he has roots with dating back to 2007: Jason Heyward.
Heyward’s No. 23 locker sits next to Freeman’s in the L.A. clubhouse and the first baseman’s praise was immediate and succinct:
“You’re going to see why he was a first-round [Draft] pick,” Freeman said. “He wants to be so good, too; it’s in there -- and I think he might have unlocked it.”
Heyward is in big league camp with the Dodgers on a Minor League deal he inked in December, despite interest from other clubs. While the five-time Gold Glove winner scuffled at the dish over the past two years with the Cubs (.211 average, 66 OPS+), he brings veteran leadership to a group that saw Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger exit via free agency this offseason.
“Intangibles of what a guy like J-Hey does, I already know the value,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I’m very bullish on the swing, the player, the person and how he’s going to help our ballclub this year.”
While Heyward is known for his defensive ability, Freeman isn’t closing the chapter on the left-handed hitter still having a lot to contribute offensively.
“He’s been putting in the work. I love his adjustments,” Freeman said of Heyward’s swing, going on to pantomime how his hand placement has been adjusted. “It’s a big difference. He has a better chance to get to the ball. Everyone is very happy with his adjustments.”
Heyward and Freeman comprised two of Atlanta’s first four selections in the 2007 Draft. Both players stood 6-foot-5 and came to the Braves from the high school ranks, with their successes intertwining en route to three trips to the postseason in their five years as teammates. Now 33 years old, Heyward boasts a 40-game postseason resume, which includes a World Series ring with the Cubs in 2016. The Dodgers’ skipper made it apparent that he finds the veteran’s professionalism to be an asset, one that will be highly valued as full-squad workouts begin to get underway.
The position of being the new face in the clubhouse is one less than a year removed for Freeman. Now entrenched as not only the club’s middle-of-the-order force, the affable slugger is among a group of players expected to step up off the field, leading a somewhat new-look and younger Dodgers squad.
“There’s different kinds of leadership, in my opinion, in this game. I’m not going to top step/rope it and yell and rah rah, but you’re going to see me in the same spot in the dugout,” Freeman said. “I’m cheering my teammates on, I’m in it. I want to be out there every single day. It’s hard to lead if you’re not out there, that’s one of my biggest things. Play the game the right way, treat everybody the same -- with respect.”
Earlier in the week, Roberts previously mentioned he was a fan of the club’s “youthful enthusiasm,” something that will come up with the club’s vaunted Minor League system beginning to bear its fruits at the big league level.
“If anyone was going to come in here and say, ‘I’m going to be a leader,’ everyone else is going to eye roll you when you do that,” Freeman said. “It’s going to happen organically. It could be me, it could be Mookie [Betts], it could be Clayton [Kershaw], it could be Gavin Lux -- you never know what it could be like.
“I think the leadership question is going to fade really fast this season.”