Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ludwick's injury paves the way for Heisey

Chris Heisey will have big shoes to fill for the injured Ryan Ludwick.
By Scott Eddy
Staff Writer

The time is now for Chris Heisey.

With one ill-fated headfirst slide into third base from Ryan Ludwick, the door opened for what may be Heisey’s last, best opportunity.

The Reds will be without the services of Ludwick through the All-Star Break after undergoing surgery to repair labrum damage in his right shoulder. That’s the best possible scenario – getting Ludwick back in three months seems to be an optimistic view. Without Ludwick, the Reds lack their Opening Day cleanup hitter and everyday left fielder.

Insert Heisey.


While some Reds fans would like to see a splashy trade to bring in another bat, or perhaps the call-up of mega prospect Billy Hamilton, the best option is already in-house. Now is the time to find out once and for all what the Reds have in Heisey.

What we’ve seen so far suggests that he might be able to fill the role admirably – or then again he might not.
Not long ago, Heisey was a darling of most Reds fans, clubbing 18 home runs in just 279 at-bats while splitting time primarily with Drew Stubbs and filling in around the outfield. Heisey began last season in competition with Ludwick for the everyday gig in left, and received 78 at-bats in May and 79 in June before Ludwick took off and ran with the job after catching fire in early summer.

A poor April first caused Heisey’s grip on the job to falter and terrible June (.228) coupled with Ludwick’s rise ended his hopes of playing every day. A disappearance of his 2011 power, combined with continued free swinging (81 strikeouts, 18 walks), took most of the luster away from Heisey’s stock last year

Is the real Chris Heisey the one we saw
in 2011, 2012 or somewhere in-between?
The lack of power (seven home runs, 31 RBI in 347 at-bats) was alarming and showed that the 2011 outburst will most likely be a misnomer when it comes to realistic results from Heisey. Still, the real Heisey likely lies somewhere between last season’s disappointment and the positive output of the previous year.

The minor league numbers were nearly always strong – Heisey’s career line on the farm is .294/.365/458. His 52 career home runs in 1,784 minor league at-bats but much higher on-base percentage lead one to believe we should expect something in the middle of the extremes we’ve seen from Heisey so far in the bigs.

If Heisey can post the type of production he did in 120 games as a part-time player in 2011, he will more than be able to hold his weight in the lineup. Expecting 20 home runs may be a stretch; but perhaps there’s also more in the tank than the .309 on-base percentage he posted that year, if his minor league numbers are any indication. Last season wasn’t all bad either – Heisey did manage to bat .321 in 78 at-bats during the month of May.

We can only hope that if Heisey finally gets the job as his own, without someone breathing down his neck as Ludwick was a year ago, that he will press less at the plate and be able to raise his contact rate once more.

One thing Heisey is not is a clean-up hitter. Even with the power numbers of two years ago, it’s unlikely to believe that he will ever be more than a square peg in a round hole for that role. While it isn’t ideal, the team could shift Brandon Phillips back into that role while batting Heisey second. Heisey had more success batting second last year (.297) than any other spot in the lineup in which he saw significant playing time. That would allow for minimal impact to Dusty Baker’s preferred lineup while putting both Heisey and Phillips in roles that they have found previous success.

Defensively, Heisey figures to be a net gain in left, though Ludwick did play admirably in the field a year ago.

While the alternative of calling up Hamilton might appease more fans, many of those same fans were calling for Heisey to play everyday less than two years ago. Now he has the best chance he’s ever had at the major league level – and it very well may be his last shot to stick as a full-time player. A strong showing this season could allow the Reds to feel more comfortable with the likely loss of Shin Soo-Choo at season’s end, or lead to a trade down the road. Moreover, Hamilton simply isn't ready and likely needs a full season at Triple-A.

Either way, the time is now for Chris Heisey. It’s time to show he belongs – or if he’s really nothing more than a bench player. 

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