The writing's been on the wall for some time now, but David O'Brien tells us that Bobby Cox has officially informed Jason Heyward that Heyward will be on the Opening Day roster. Those that read Chop-n-Change regularly know that I've been wary of having Heyward open the season in the majors, due to concerns over his service time and his readiness. The latter is a total non-concern at this point. Spring training success can be misleading, as it was in the case of Jordan Schafer last winter. Schafer's stats looked pretty, but his Achilles' heels weren't fixed: he was still struggling against lefties and piling up strikeouts. Heyward didn't really have Achilles' heels to begin with, given the completeness of his game, but his success this spring has been supported by strong underlying skills across the board. Heyward has shown no holes in his game this spring, demonstrating light-tower power, the plate discipline of a veteran, and a knack for hitting the ball hard.
Service time is still an issue: the first two months of Heyward's career could wind up costing the Braves tens of millions of dollars when he hits free agency in 2015 instead of 2016. But I need face it: it's time to win now. Bobby Cox needs to be sent out with a bang, and four seasons of no playoffs is getting to be too many for the fickle Atlanta fan base. We can hope that J-Hey will be amenable to a long-term deal that will keep him in Atlanta and render any service time manipulation moot. (Hear that, Frank? Don't waste your time locking this kid up. He's the real deal, and you can bet Andrew Friedman doesn't regret getting Evan Longoria signed early.)
UPDATE: For what it's worth, MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez quotes Chipper Jones as saying he "would not be surprised to see the Braves try and lock [Heyward] up this offseason." I'm not sure I would even wait until next winter if I'm Frank Wren, but at least it appears to be on the front office's radar.
Heyward is the difference maker that the Braves' lineup sorely needs, turning a gaping hole in the outfield into a probable strong point on offense. Get excited, Braves fans: the Hanson/Heyward era has begun.