Jason Heyward brings needed presence to Cardinals
Going into the Cardinals' first Grapefruit League game, manager Mike Matheny had already made up his mind on what Heyward brings to the team.
''I see him as a veteran player,'' Matheny said. ''He's accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time. He's still a young guy but I see him with leadership qualities.''
Heyward came to St. Louis along with Jordan Walden in an offseason trade that sent Shelby Miller and minor leaguer Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta, bringing power and speed to a Cardinals' lineup that lacked both last season.
Heyward stole 20 bases for Atlanta in 2014, that total would have tied him with Kolten Wong for Cardinals' team high. Heyward's 27 homers in 2012 were six more than any Cardinal hit in 2014.
Heyward, who is eligible for free agency following this season, averaged 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases with the Braves during his first five seasons - and the Gold Glove he received last season was the second of his career. Those are the stats of a veteran player, but Heyward is still uncomfortable classifying himself that way.
''I guess I have been here for some time,'' Heyward said. ''I guess I have had some experiences that someone else would like to hear about.''
Matheny said Heyward's reputation in the clubhouse cemented the Cardinals' desire to acquire the left-handed-hitting right fielder.
Similar to many veterans, Heyward arrived a couple of weeks early to Cardinals camp. The transition from one organization accustomed to winning to another has been smooth.
''This clubhouse is an easy clubhouse to fit into,'' Matheny said. ''Actions speak louder than words to this group. Everyone holds themselves accountable for what we want to get done every day. We know at the end of the year where we want to be.''
Younger players such as outfielder Randal Grichuk have found Heyward to be approachable and engaging. Veterans such as left fielder Matt Holiday are looking forward to seeing what he can do when games begin.
Matheny already has an idea on what Heyward brings.
''He's got a presence, there's no question about it,'' Matheny said. ''He's been a guy in a short amount of time that's made a big splash.''
Matheny gave Heyward, and all of the Cardinals except the pitchers who needed to throw a bullpen, the day off on Wednesday.
When Grapefruit League games begin on Thursday for the Cardinals, one of Matheny's more interesting tasks will be determining where Heyward's speed and power best fit in the batting order.
Heyward frequently hit leadoff for the Braves, which may have affected his power numbers. Matt Carpenter seems to hold a firm grasp on the Cardinals' leadoff role. Heyward could hit in any of the five spots that follow.
Matheny wouldn't reveal where he planned to try Heyward first, but does plan to move him around this spring.
''Whatever I'm asked to do, wherever I'm going to be asked to hit, that's just going to be whatever I settle into,'' Heyward said. ''Consistency in that spot, in those situations, is what's going to bring the best out of someone. That's all I'm looking forward to.''