Heyward will open season in Atlanta

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jason Heyward's time in Gwinnett was a very brief one. It turns out his only games for the G-Braves were at the tag end of last season.

Making official what seemed obvious, the rookie sensation was told Friday that he will open the season as Atlanta's regular right fielder.

"How could we keep him off the team?" Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's done everything this spring."

Heyward, 20, is batting .378 with a homer and five RBIs after going 2-for-4 against Detroit in his first game after getting the word. He has a .500 on-base average and .533 slugging percentage.

"He'll be in there every day," Cox said of the left-handed hitter's role. "With him, it doesn't matter if a lefty or a righty is pitching."

Heyward was informed he had made the team during a brief meeting with Cox on Friday morning, then general manager Frank Wren talked to him during batting practice.

"It was time to make it official that Jason was on the team," Wren said. "Now he can just go out and play the last week of spring training without any more speculation."

Heyward was low key when asked about making the team, but he admitted that "it was a great feeling" leaving Cox's office knowing that he was officially a major leaguer.

"I really wasn't surprised or relieved," Heyward said. "It just means that it is time to get ready for the season."

"I've been focused on baseball all the time," he added. "On the field, this is no different than any other day."

The Braves could have delayed Heyward's arbitatrion and free agent clock by starting him in the minors. "But I don't know how we could have faced our players or the fans if we had done that," Wren said.

Cox has been in Heyward's corner all the time. "He makes us a lot better," said the manager, who is in his last season. "He doesn't just hit, he can do it all. And his makeup is off the charts."

Heyward was the Braves' first-round draft pick in 2007 and made a quick rise through the Atlanta farm system.

"There is not a better manager for a young player to break in under than Bobby," Wren said.

Heyward, from the Atlanta suburb of McDonough, was named minor league player of the year last season by Baseball America after hitting a combined .323 with 17 homers at three minor league stops. He started in Class A and ended in Class AAA, playing three regular-season games for the G-Braves and four in the International League Governors' Cup playoffs.

"We saw last summer that he was a player on a quick ascend," said Wren, who noted that the Braves considered calling up Heyward last September.

Heyward made a favorable impression on Braves players last spring and enhanced that this year.

"I couldn't be more impressed," Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Look out, Atlanta. He's going to wow you."

"He's a stud," said pitcher Tommy Hanson, who finished third in the National League rookie of the year voting last season. "He deserves all the attention and he can handle it."

Wren said that he doesn't remember a rookie getting quite so much attention. "But he's handled it great."

Heyward doesn't turn 21 until August, but you'd never guess his age with his maturity on and off the field.

"His plate discipline for being that age is really beyond my comprehension," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "All I can say is that everyone in Atlanta has a lot to look forward to."

The Braves cleared a spot on the 40-man roster for Heyward, an invitee to spring training, when pitcher Todd Redmond was outrighted to Class AAA Gwinnett on Thursday.

The remaining question was which number Heyward would wear. No. 71 this spring, he will switch to No. 22 for the season.