Following the saga of the Cubs’ highly-paid free agent outfielder was like taking a journey through the five stages of grief. First came denial: No way can he continue to be this bad. Then anger: Dammit, how can he continue to be this bad. Bargaining: Please, God, can you help him to not be this bad. Depression: This sucks, there’s no way the Cubs can win with him in the lineup. And finally, acceptance: The bat may suck, but the glove’s awesome and that speech pushed the team over the top.
But now everyone’s least favorite regular-season storyline has taken on a different tenor as it’s been laced with optimism this winter. I’m writing, of course, about Jason Heyward’s swing.
You know the deal, but I’ll offer a quick-and-dirty recap for those who have arrived to the party fashionably late. As soon as the season ended, Heyward bought a house in the Mesa area in order to spend the offseason rebuilding and refining his swing with the help of hitting coaches Eric Hinske and John Mallee. Darnell McDonald, the Cubs’ mental skills coordinator, has been around as well and actually gave us our first look at Heyward’s new move.
McDonald’s presence is no fluke, as J-Hey’s issues were most certainly due to more than just inconsistent mechanics (for more on that, check out how his swing morphed over the course of time, even during the 2016 season). The Cubs have really embraced the mental side of the game, and not in the sense of repeating some lame-ass “losing is a disease” rhetoric. No, they’re serious about player psychology from the big leagues all the way down to their Dominican academy.
It’s not as simple as just patting Heyward on the back and keeping his spirits high, though. I don’t care how good you feel, all the positive attitude in the world can’t make up for poor mechanics. With hands as loud and busy as John Bonham’s, a back foot nailed to the ground, and a timing mechanism that came and went, it was painful at times to watch the big right fielder at the plate. His load took his body weight back and he’d dive at the ball, opening his stance with his front toe turned out as he beat grounders to the right side time and again.
But enough about what Heyward was doing, let’s get a look at what he is doing. In exclusive video obtained Thursday by Cubs Insider, we can see exactly what changes have taken place.
This clip is obviously condensed, but Heyward spent about 90 minutes honing his craft on the cool Mesa afternoon. The first thing that jumps out is the hands, which are no longer rocking and twisting like he’s trying to wring out a towel. They’re also farther away from the body when he’s at ease before moving into the load position a little earlier than last year. And you can clearly see that he’s getting much better extension, a welcome change from that high-and-tight handcuffed cut he would take last season.
Heyward also appears to be standing more upright and moving forward through the ball, rather than rocking back and lunging at it. The back foot doesn’t look as static and the front foot isn’t opening up as much, both good signs. You can’t see it from the angle here, but I have it on good authority that Heyward is also standing a little closer to the plate.
That’s a lot to look for, particularly if you’re just an amateur swing analyst like me. That said, we’ve got some side-by-side comparisons that will give you a better idea of just how far Heyward has come. The first shows his 2016 swing next to that winter prototype from McDonald’s video; the second shows us what he’s tweaked from late December to now.
— Corey Freedman (@CFCubsRelated) December 20, 2016
If you’d like longer looks at the various drills Heyward ran through, check out the individual videos below. And maybe share your thoughts on what you see, whether it’s good, bad, or otherwise.