Early Jason Heyward stats prove Dodgers have unlocked him

Apr 3, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Jason Heyward (23)
Apr 3, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Jason Heyward (23) / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Remember debating a few weeks back about whether the Dodgers' desire to protect a slumping Jason Heyward on the Opening Day roster could cost them a chance to bring James Outman north? Remember how it seemed like the team including both Heyward and Outman could cost them Trayce Thompson?

Hah. About that. The Dodgers maneuvered their roster to include all three, and are reaping statistically significant dividends in the early going, despite the small sample size.

Heyward came to Los Angeles discouraged by the Cubs' non-tendering him and at an inflection point in his career. Rumors swirled after the Dodgers took a flyer on him that he'd reworked his swing somewhat and could provide more than just encouraging words and a sympathetic ear for Freddie Freeman.

Those rumors turned out to be 100% true. Heyward will hit slumps. He will have low points and peaks. He will scuffle and he will execute. But knowing that he has exit velocity like this in his bat means something tangible has changed, and there's a defined reason to believe.

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Jason Heyward ripping hardest-hit balls in years

And, remember: somehow, after a 14-year big league career, he's only 33!

Sometimes, numbers can be misleading, though. Let's check on the video footage and see if the dinger's as impressive when you -- oh, yup. Yeah, that's a different guy than we've seen since he ... signed with the Cubs?

Arguably since ... his MLB debut, or at the latest 2012 in Atlanta?

It can be easy to forget what Heyward was supposed to be, considering he's spent most of his career as a high-character mentor and league-average hitter. But as a young Braves prospect, he was atop the game's rankings. He was supposed to be The Hammer on Atlanta's next dynasty and potentially the best young outfielder in the league. He made his MLB debut on Opening Day at 20 years old.

While nobody expected the talent to lie dormant for quite this long, scouts correctly identified the thump in Heyward's bat at a very young age. Thanks to the hat tip from Freddie Freeman, the Dodgers might just be the beneficiaries of playing the long game.