Braves' Heyward already a legend?

This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

So far, the biggest story in spring training is the kid whose home runs break cars.

    When manager Bobby Cox said that the Braves will probably install nets to protect cars from Jason Heyward’s prodigious batting-practice home runs, reporters thought he was kidding.He was not kidding.

    “I’m serious,” Cox said Thursday at Champion Stadium. “Smashing too many cars.”

    Heyward has created a buzz that’s transcended Braves camp and spread throughout baseball, with tales of the 20-year-old outfield prospect’s hitting exploits becoming the stuff of blog- and Twitter-fueled legend.


    Pitcher Tim Hudson said it sounded like a gunshot as he walked past the outfield as Heyward hit. Pitcher Derek Lowe said Heyward’s batting practice was frightening. Cox compared the sound of the ball off Heyward’s bat to what Cox heard when Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle hit. “That same sound,” he said. “That ring.”

    Heyward could win the opening-day right field job with a good spring, and Cox said he’s not worried that all the attention or pressure could have an adverse affect. In fact, Cox said he had no concerns about Heyward, on or off the field.

    “His outfield play is good. His running is good. His throwing is good,” Cox said. “He’s got great makeup. The hype, the media business, is not going to bother him one way or the other, whether he makes the team or doesn’t make the team.

    “He’s got that kind of makeup. It’s really good.”

Heyward is the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball.

He essentially split last season between (fast) Class A and Double-A, and crushed pitchers at higher level (.352/.446/.611). Including three Triple-A games, Heyward struck out 61 times and walked 61 times. He turned 20 in August.

Obviously, in baseball terms he's just a baby. But baseball's history is loaded with immensely talented 20-year-old players who were ready to thrive -- or at least hold their own -- in the majors. When you've got a player signed out of high school who's quickly zipped through every level and raked in Double-A, all before (or while) turning 20, you've got a player who probably doesn't need much (if any) Triple-A seasoning.

Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez come to mind, but they're not the only ones. Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones, Edgar Renteria, Jose Reyes, and Justin Upton all played well as 20-year-old major leaguers after spending little or no time in Triple-A.

Could Heyward benefit from a month or two in the International League? Perhaps. It might wind up saving the Braves a little money on Heyward's first big contract. But the Braves have a shot at contending this season, Bobby Cox's last. If you're playing on paper, you probably do send him down for a while. This isn't on paper, though. If Heyward plays well in March, there's going to be a massive amount of pressure to see what he can do in April.

Which is maybe how it should be.

This is the Show, sir. When the legend is good enough to hit major league pitching, put the legend in right field and let him play.