With Spring Training ramping up this week and with games starting next week, I thought it could be useful to take a look at some under the rader players from the Dodgers' quiet offseason who might make a significant impact this year or even break camp with the club on Opening Day. In this first article I'm going to take a quick look at Jason Heyward, a well-known name but somebody who has struggled to perform on the field for the last few years.
While on the surface this was an incredibly disappointing outfield signing after the Dodgers non-tendered Cody Bellinger, the upside is certainly there. Freddie Freeman, a former teammate and good friend of Heyward, remarked that Dodger fans will soon see why he was a first round pick as a prospect. Freeman is likely referencing Heyward's known dedication to to regaining his former stardom and the massive swing changes that he has reportedly undergone this offseason.
Heyward has had an incredibly rough stretch since leaving Atlanta for Chicago in 2016, putting up a wRC+ of 61 and -0.4 fWAR with a single home ru in 2022. He is, though, when healthy still a capable defensive outfield (even if he's not relegated to corner positions) with an above-average arm (81st percentile in arm strength). Injuries have also been a significant problem for Heyward recently, playing only 48 games in 2022 due to knee issues and has averaged only 116 games since joining the Cubs (excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 season).
Another possible benefit to Heyward's joining the Dodgers is his clubhouse presence. Such is especially important because the Dodgers lost their leader in Justin Turner, a role that Heyward should be able to aid Freddie Freeman, Clayton Kershaw, and Mookie Betts in filling. Additiionally, he famously rallied the Cubs during a rain delay in extra innings of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. This kind of leadership will be incredibly important on the 2023 Dodgers in particular due to their influx of new and young players Miguel Vargas, James Outman, and Michael Busch. It's a safe bet that, at the very least, Heyward serves as a good role model for these young players in their first tase of the show.
Clearly, Heyward is far from a guarantee to magically find his swing in Los Angeles as so many players do but he does have significant upside if he's healthy and surrounded by a winning culture and incredibly advanced coaching staff. I don't expect Heyward to be an All-Star but I do think that he'll improve from his days in Chicago and be a solid contributor to what is likely to be a rotating outfield situation.
While it's clear that one has to search and be somewhat optimistic to find much to like about this signing, I do think that it's very low risk and at least marginal reward, even if it just means having Heyward around as a pinch-hitter and mentor. And who knows, maybe he even shows Chavez Ravine a little tase of 2018 Matt Kemp?