One of the biggest names this spring has been Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, and with good reason. Still, expectations have to be tempered, as we're talking about a 20-year-old with a grand total of 50 games above A-ball. So what can one reasonably project Heyward to do? Let's check out what PECOTA has to say.
The first line is his weighted mean PECOTA projection, and the 80 and 20 lines represent his 80th and 20th percentile projections. In other words, realistic high- and low-end forecasts. Even considering Heyward's youth and inexperience, the system says he’s too darn talented to just simply collapse and not get the job done. Even if things don’t work out at all, he's still going to do something worthwhile, and he’ll likely never fall to a level where getting him up to the big leagues is a mistake.
Now PECOTA is a historical-based simulation in the sense that it tries to map the future based on the career paths of similar players. But just how unique is Heyward? To find out, I had our staff run a quick search of every player who, as a corner outfielder, had 300 or more plate appearances in the big leagues as a 20-year-old. I didn't expect a long list—but I surprised to it was this short: Just 17 players in major-league history fit such criteria. And using that list, I generated three projections of my own.
Projection A is simply an average of the 17 seasons from the above referenced search. Even the average would have him competitive for the Rookie of the Year award. But that shouldn't be a big surprise. The lesson here is that, to even get to the big leagues at the age of 20, one has to be loaded with talent. But we'll get to just how talented in a second.
Projection B is averages of the 12 players who at least loosely matched Heyward's scouting profile as a middle-of-the-order run producer. It may be the most optimistic, but also arguably the most accurate for comparison because it cuts out players like Rickey Henderson, who was a leadoff hitter, dead-ball era stars Ty Cobb and Sherry Magee, and also more recent players Claudell Washington and Lloyd Moseby, who were valued for more for their speed and/or defense than their power.
The lowest projection C, is one focused on currency, and while the smallest in sample size (seven players), it represents the seven 20-year-olds who had such seasons in the modern playoff era (1969-forward).
These projections might not be eye-popping, even on the most optimistic level, but for a 20-year-old to even be in the realm of possibilities for producing well at the big league level makes him a once-in-a-generation type of talent. The numbers might not be crazy, but the list of players is, as it includes the likes of Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, and Frank Robinson.
Of those players on the list, nearly half (eight) of them are now in the Hall of Fame and two active players, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabera, at least have a chance to get there. The 17 players, including those still active, combined for 123 All-Star Game appearances and eight MVP awards.
So while projections for Heyward's 2010 season might not be off the charts, the projections for his career just might be.