Myrtle Beach teammates Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman earned the nickname "Salt and Pepper" for their offensive exploits last year when they teamed up with low Class A Rome. The two haven’t slowed down much this year now that they’re both in the high Class A Carolina league at age 19.
Heyward gets the most publicity of the two and could turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the 2007 draft, when the outfielder fell to the Braves at No. 14 overall, where they snagged him and signed him for $1.7 million. He hit .323/.388/.483 for Rome last year while emerging as one of the game best five-tool talents.
About the only tool that didn’t show through for Heyward last year was his power, as he hit only a modest 11 home runs in 449 at-bats for Rome. However, he knocked 27 doubles last year, and some of those doubles have started turning into home runs this year as Heyward has already slugged nine long balls in only 139 at-bats for the Pelicans.
"The ball’s carrying a little bit better for him," Myrtle Beach manager Rocket Wheeler said. "He’s hit a couple home runs the other way, which is very good."
Heyward is hitting .295/.373/.561 for the season (.308/.386/.603 in May) and is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak. Heyward’s tools were on full display yesterday, as he went 3-for-4 and drove in three runs in the Pelicans’ 6-5 victory over Winston-Salem.
Heyward hit a two-out RBI single up the middle in the third inning to get the Pelicans on the board. In the fifth, he gunned down a Winston-Salem runner trying to stretch a single into double in the top of the inning. Then the lefty-hitting Heyward had one of the biggest hits of the game when he hit a bullet down the right field line for a two-run double that tied the game 4-4 in the bottom of the frame. In the seventh, he beat out an infield single, though he was later stranded at second.
Both Heyward and Freeman draw raves for their mature approaches, with Wheeler calling Freeman "a hitting machine." Most of Freeman’s numbers aren’t far behind Heyward’s. The first baseman has occupied the clean-up spot behind Heyward in the Pelicans’ order and put up a .284/.363/.433 line in 141 at-bats in the process. He hasn’t hit for as much power yet with only four home runs on the season, but that should come eventually after Freeman hit 18 home runs last year as an 18-year-old in the Sally League. The 6-foot-5, 210 pounder has also drawn strong reviews for his work around the bag on defense, with Wheeler praising his ability to stretch out and pick balls in the dirt.
Not to be overlooked, the Pelicans also possess the Carolina League’s home run leader, left fielder Cody Johnson. Johnson has 16 home runs in only 155 at-bats, while no one else in the league has even cracked double-digits yet. Johnson, also 19, is hitting a respectable 277/.356/.645, but he’s become well known for his all-or-nothing approach that’s seen him strike out 65 times already this year after he piled up 177 in 468 at-bats with Rome last year.
Still, when he makes contact, Johnson has the kind of power that is rarely seen in someone his age.
"I call it ‘feast or famine,’" Wheeler said. "When he hits the ball, he’s got so much raw power. When he makes contact and puts the barrel on the ball, the ball jumps off his bat. I’ve been around this game awhile, and for a young kid to that kind of raw power, that’s probably the most I’ve seen out of a young kid. He’s just got to cut down on the strikeouts, but he’s working at it."
It will be interesting to see how Johnson’s approach carries over into higher levels. But for now, he’s teamed with Heyward and Freeman to give the Pelicans a deadly teenage trio in the middle of their order.
Line Of The Year?
Low Class A Charleston righthander Andrew Brackman (Yankees) had one of the strangest outings you’ll find last night against Bowling Green. The 23-year-old, 6-foot-10 hurler has been pretty solid lately, allowing two runs or fewer in each of his previous three starts coming into last night. However, to say that his control deserted him last night would be a gross understatement. In 3 1/3 innings of work, Brackman allowed three runs on only one hit with one strikeout.
The problem? He walked more hitters (10) than he retired (eight). He threw five wild pitches as well. Yet the strangest part is that despite his travails, Brackman didn’t even lose the game. He was able to limit the damage by inducing a couple of key double plays and the RiverDogs rallied to win 9-4.
"There’s nothing you can say," RiverDogs manager Torre Tyson told the Charleston Post and Courier. "Sometimes (Brackman) just fights himself. He’s out there talking to himself. But he’s got to fight through it."