Heyward ranked top prospect

One homegrown right fielder is gone. Another is on the way.

Jeff Francoeur arrived in Atlanta with a lot of fanfare, but that was in part because of his two-sport stardom at Parkview. Henry County's Jason Heyward is drawing his attention for strictly what he does on the baseball diamond.

Heyward, who doesn't turn 20 until Aug. 9, is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in all of the minors by Baseball America magazine in its mid-season update.

Not even Braves rookie pitching sensation Tommy Hanson rose to quite that kind of lofty billing and the question is when - not if - Heyward will make it to Turner Field.

The left-handed hitter made the jump from Class A Myrtle Beach to Class AA Mississippi early this month and has shown just how close to being ready for the major leagues he might be.

Heyward hit .378 with nine extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in his first 13 games in the Southern League, striking out just two times and drawing seven walks.

If that wasn't enough of an impression, Heyward also played in the All-Star Futures Game at St. Louis and went 1-for-2 as the starting right field for Team USA.

"It's hard to hide his talent," Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman said. Then he amended his comment. "You can't hide it," he said.

Heyward won over Atlanta manager Bobby Cox during spring training. "He's going to be special," Cox said.

Heyward's progress this year has made him a candidate to jump to Atlanta next season and slide into the right field spot held by Francoeur until his recent trade to the New York Mets.

Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, though, seems determined not to put too much pressure on his prized prospect.

"We don't put a timetable on any of our players, no matter how talented they are," Wren said.

Before Heyward gets to Turner Field, there will likely be a stop at Gwinnett Stadium just like there was for Hanson.

For Heyward, that could be at the start of next season or even late this year.

"When that might be, I don't know exactly," Atlanta director of player development Kurt Kemp said. "We want all our players to be challenged, no matter what level they are at."

Moving Heyward to Class AAA before the end of this season could certainly give Gwinnett's playoff hopes in the International League a boost.

Heyward has hit at every level he's played and likely would have been moved up from Myrtle Beach to Mississippi a little earlier if he hadn't missed time with hip and oblique strains.

"He was going very well both times before he got hurt," Kemp said.

Trades the last few years have depleted the Atlanta farm system, but the Braves still have three of the most intriguing hitting prospects in the minors, as well as some good young arms.

First baseman Freddie Freeman, also 19, moved up from Myrtle Beach to Mississippi with Heyward and left fielder Cody Johnson, 20, is second in the minors with 24 home runs for the Pelicans.

Freeman, who like Heyward got off to a fast start at Mississippi, was ranked No. 11 in Baseball America's midseason prospect list.

Johnson, Atlanta's first-round draft pick in 2006, has strikeout issues, but that isn't the case with Heyward and Freeman, the Braves's first and second-round choices in 2007.

"Most 19-year-olds don't have good strike-zone discipline," Kemp said of Heyward and Freeman. "They both do. They have very mature hitting approaches."

Freeman joined Heyward in major league camp during spring training and also made a favorable impression with Cox. "He's got power and looks real good at first base," Cox said.

But with the Atlanta outfield in a state of flux, it is Heyward who is being counted on to contribute as soon as possible - whether that's next year or not.

"All I can do is be ready when they say so," Heyward has said repeatedly. "When they feel they want me up there in Atlanta, I'll be up there. I just need to make sure that I'm ready to contribute."

First, there will likely be some time with the G-Braves. That will allow Gwinnett fans to get acquainted with Atlanta's new homegrown right fielder.

"We are very happy with his progress," Wren said of Heyward. "Players will tell you when they are ready to move to the next level by how they are performing."

The Atlanta Braves' next wave of prospects will pass through Gwinnett in the coming years, with Turner Field the ultimate destination. Here are 10 names to remember:

· Jason Heyward, 19, RF

First-round pick in 2007 from Henry County ranked as No. 1 prospect in minors by Baseball America magazine.

· Freddie Freeman, 19, 1B

Like Heyward, second-round pick from 2007 as made the mid-season move from Myrtle Peach to Mississippi with ease.

· Cody Johnson, 20, LF

First-round pick in 2006 is second in the minors with 24 home runs for Myrtle Beach and is cutting down strikeouts.

· Julio Teheran, 18, RHP

Although still in rookie ball with Danville, the prized prospect from Columbia has one of the best arms in the organization.

· Craig Kimbrel, 21, RHP

Third-round pick in 2008 is 12-for-12 in saves and has 75 strikeouts in 43 innings for Rome and Myrtle Beach.

· Cole Rohrbough, 22, LHP

Has losing record at Myrtle Beach, but still has promise if he can avoid the injuries that have set him back.

· Brandon Hicks, 23, SS

Impressed Bobby Cox with his glove in spring training, but is struggling at the plate for Mississippi this year.

· Zeke Spruill, 19, RHP

The graduate of Kell High School won his first 13 pro decisions and has been the ace of the Rome staff.

· Kyle Cofield, 22, RHP

Alabama native leads the Mississippi rotation with a 6-3 record and was picked for the Southern League All-Star Game.

· Rudy Darrow, 25, RHP

Sidearm reliever acquired from Detroit for Josh Anderson was hampered by shoulder soreness and is at Myrtle Beach.


Who: Jason Heyward

Position: Right field

Team: Mississippi Braves

Age: Turns 20 on Aug. 9

Birthplace: Ridgewood, N.J.

Home: McDonough

High school: Henry County, where he .520 with eight homers and 29 RBIs as a senior

Size: 6-foot-5, 230 pounds

Bats, throws: left

How acquired: first-round draft pick in 2007, 14th overall

Signing bonus: received $1.7 million to bypass scholarship to UCLA

Prospect ranking: Began the season rated as the No. 5 overall prospect in the minors by Baseball America and moved up to No. 1 at midseason after Matt Wieters, David Price, Tommy Hanson and Colby Rasmus reached the majors.

Minor league highlights: Batted .323 last season with 44 extra-base hits for Rome and was voted the most outstanding prospect in the Class A South Atlantic League. ... Was batting .296 with 10 homers in 39 games when promoted from Myrtle Beach to Class AA Mississippi this month. ... Hit .378 in his first 13 games with Mississippi. Had six doubles, two triples, a homer and 10 RBIs. ... Selected for the All-Star Futures Game in St. Louis. Went 1-for-2 as the starting right fielder for Team USA.