Heyward's new swing the early talk of camp

February 20th, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- has enjoyed plenty of success during his 13-year big league career. He has made an All-Star team, won a handful of Gold Glove Awards in the outfield and was an integral part of the Cubs team that broke the curse in 2016.

Last season, however, Heyward experienced some of the worst struggles at the plate in his career. He hit .204 with one homer in 137 at-bats and had a strikeout percentage of 21.2%, his highest of any season since 2012 (23.4%). Given those struggles, the Cubs decided Heyward wasn’t going to finish the season with the team in order to give the organization's younger players an opportunity.

The end in Chicago was something Heyward had been expecting. He wasn’t performing and the team was going in another direction. It became even clearer once the Cubs traded Anthony Rizzo, who was the face of the franchise, to the Yankees near the Trade Deadline in 2021.

What Heyward didn’t know was whether another team would take a chance on him. He’s still only 33 years old, but over the years, the industry has prioritized giving younger players more chances when such an opportunity arises.

“I’m not the one that’s gonna pick up the phone. I can’t hire me,” Heyward said. “I had to be real with myself about that, that someone might not pick up the phone. But the fact they [the Dodgers] did and multiple teams [did], I’m not taking that for granted by any means.”

Reuniting with Freddie Freeman, whom he has known for more than a decade dating back to their time together in Atlanta, played a role in Heyward’s decision to sign a Minor League deal with an invite to camp with the Dodgers. But Los Angeles’ track record of reviving careers was ultimately the biggest appeal for Heyward.

Soon after signing his deal, Heyward made his way to Dodger Stadium and got to work with hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc. Following his struggles last season, Heyward knew he needed to make significant changes at the plate, and that’s exactly what he did this winter.

“I was expecting to make changes and expecting to start from scratch, which was nice,” Heyward said. “That being said, it’s still about me as far as showing up everyday, especially stepping in the box being the best version of myself.”

The Dodgers made it clear to Heyward that his swing needed a major overhaul. There were some things that weren’t working for him and had prevented him from producing at a high clip for a few seasons. The biggest thing was his stance and the use of his hands.

Over the years, Heyward preferred to keep his hands closer to his body. But this spring, Heyward has kept his hands higher and more compact, allowing him to catch up to the ball more freely. Spring Training games -- and ultimately regular season games -- will be the real indicator if those changes worked, but Heyward showed off his new stance on Monday, taking Tony Gonsolin deep during live batting practice.

“You’re going to see why he was a first-round pick,” Freeman said of Heyward. “He wants to be so good, too. It’s in there, and I think he might have unlocked something. I’m just happy for him. … I think anyone who knows Jason knows that [winning] is all he cares about. Now he’s got himself in a position to succeed at the plate a lot more.”

Over the next six weeks Heyward will look to prove he can be a key contributor this season. The Dodgers could trade him to another team before Opening Day if he doesn’t make the roster out of Spring Training, but the expectation is Heyward will be one of the Dodgers’ five outfielders once they break camp.

He would have to be added to the 40-man roster in order for that to happen; placing an injured pitcher on the 60-day injured list, particularly Alex Reyes, is the logical move. But those decisions are still a ways away. For now, Heyward is looking to get back to his old self, which would be a significant addition to a Dodgers team that needs another outfielder.

"It's an opportunity to come to a hungry group and be a part of something special," added Heyward.