CHICAGO -- A Gold Glove and World Series victory weren’t enough for Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, so he dispensed with the normal time off after a long season and got right back to work with one thing in mind: fixing his swing.
“It’s easier said than done trying to do it in season,” Heyward said Friday on Day 1 of the Cubs' annual fan convention. “The offseason allows you to slow things down and focus on all the little things.”
And focus he has. Under the watchful eye of former teammate and now coach Eric Hinske and with frequent visits from Cubs hitting coach John Mallee, Heyward is simply trying to recapture what he once had. The goal is to find his stroke from 2012, when he put up a career-high 27 home runs with the Atlanta Braves.
“He’s trying to mirror the swing he had then,” Mallee said of the 27-year-old Heyward. “Right now the path is not the same it was then. It’s not making a change. It’s getting him back to who he was.”
Mallee says it takes about three weeks to “redo” a swing, so attempting it while Heyward was on his way to a .230 batting average in 2016 was out of the question. With time, desire and a plan, the hope is that the lefty-hitting Heyward can find his old swing by April. So what was good in 2012 that wasn’t in 2016?
“The hitting position he got into,” Mallee said. “He was in a better position to strike the ball. In 2016 that got away from him a little bit. Bat angle, launch angle, sequence of his swing.”
Video of Heyward taking swings in Arizona, where he moved to this winter, shows his hands farther from his body and the bat straighter up and down. In Mallee’s estimation, he’s ready to hit much more quickly than he was during last season.
“He needs to hear it, feel it and then see it,” Mallee said.
After each session, Heyward and Hinske will look at video and continue to tinker until it feels just right. There’s no pressure now; the real test will come when spring training games begin in late February. That’s when Heyward should really feel if the swing is right again. Everyone agrees whatever was happening in 2016 wasn’t working.
“At some point you try so hard you get to the point where you can’t breathe,” Mallee said.
Heyward’s work ethic and attitude are above reproach. He got as loud an ovation as anyone during opening ceremonies Friday night, as his play in the field never suffered despite the offensive struggles during his first season with the Cubs. And then there was the rain-delay meeting he held during Game 7 of the World Series -- a game-changer. The only thing missing last season was that swing.
“He’s working [more] diligently -- end of November, early December -- than most players do because he wants to get back to the swing that he had, and that takes repetition,” Mallee said.
And a commitment. No one doubts Heyward has it. Will the work pay off? He and the coaches are leaving no stone unturned.
“When it’s time to get back to it, you get back to it,” Heyward said. “Work hard, work smart.”