The Cubs think Jason Heyward will hit for more power than he has over the first six years of his career. And Theo Epstein believes Heyward “could be on the verge of peaking at the same age as Dwight Evans.”
According to the Tribune, Heyward impressed the Cubs’ staff with the backdoor breaking pitch he hit off Jake Arrieta that went for an opposite field homer in Game 3 of the NLDS. Epstein said, “We envisioned the damage he’d do in Wrigley on a consistent basis.”
Epstein explained to the Sun-Times, “The beautiful thing about this is he really doesn’t have to hit for more power than he already has to really help us win a lot of games because of what he brings to the table defensively, on the bases and with his on-base skills. Now, you add consistent power production into the mix, and you’re talking about one of the true, true elites in the game. We’ll see how his career evolves. But he doesn’t have to do more than he’s already done.”
Jason Heyward is a comparable player to Dwight Evans over the first six years of their careers. And the power could increase for Heyward like it did for Evans.
Dwight Evans’ first six seasons in the big leagues ended in 1977 after his age-25 season. Like Heyward, Evans made his Major League debut at 20 years old. Between 1972 and 1977, Evans played 617 games and 190 of his 508 hits went for extra bases (102 doubles, 23 triples, 65 home runs). Prior to 1978, Evans hit a career high 17 home runs in 1976.
In 1977, his age-25 season, Evans played 73 games and hit .287/.363/.526 with a .889 OPS. From 1972 through 1977, Dwight Evans had a .261/.337/.438 line with a .775 OPS.
Evans power numbers jumped in 1978, his age-26 season. Evans hit a career-high 24 home runs and finished with a .247/.336/.449 line with 24 doubles, two triples and 24 home runs for a .784 OPS. Evans walked a career-high 65 times with 119 strikeouts, which was the most strikeouts of his career to that point.
Over the next three years (1978-80), Evans’ OPS steadily increased and by his age-29 season in 1981, Evans led the American League with a .937 OPS while putting together a .296/.415/.522 slash line.
Jason Heyward played in 835 games over his first six big league seasons. Heyward has 804 hits, 276 for extra bases (158 doubles, 21 triples and 97 home runs) and a career line of .268/.353/.431 with a .784 OPS. Heyward set his career-high mark for home runs (27) in 2012. Heyward went yard 14 times in 2013 and hit 11 homers in 2014.
Last year is considered Heyward’s age-25 season and he hit .293/.359/.439 with 33 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs for a .797 OPS.
Starting with his age-26 season in 1978, Dwight Evans put together a .262/.353/.462 slash line with 85 doubles, eight triples and 63 home runs for a .815 OPS over a three-year span (1978-80). And for the eight years starting with his age-26 season, Evans hit .272/.374/.485 with 226 doubles, 32 triples and 200 home runs for a .859 OPS.
Heyward thinks he has an opportunity to improve his game according to the Sun-Times.
“I feel like there’s more in there for me. I feel like there’s a lot more things I can do: continue to hit for more power when it comes to that, continue to hopefully keep trending up in average and just getting more familiar with the game and familiar with myself and understanding where I can really excel as far as bringing something every day in certain aspects of the game.”
Theo Epstein using Dwight Evans a comp for Jason Heyward is rather interesting and makes sense. Evans was a very good player for a long time in the big leagues. And Evans did not start putting it all together until his age-26 season. Evans had an excellent 12-year stretch that began in 1977. If Heyward can provide similar production, the Cubs could win a lot of games over the next three to four years with him in the lineup.
Note: h/t to Christopher Kamka for historical data used in this report