David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution makes a prediction: "Jason Heyward is going to be the Braves' right fielder on opening day." Heyward, the top prospect in baseball, is impressing observers in every way possible this spring. Still, he is only 20 years old and has just 50 games experience above A ball.
Projection systems, looking only at Heyward's minor league stats and not the scouting reports, call for something around a .330 OBP and .425 SLG from Heyward in the Majors in 2010 (CHONE, ZiPS). A computer would give Heyward more minor league seasoning, under the theory that he's a lateral move from Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, and Eric Hinske. Keeping Heyward in the minors for even two weeks would buy the Braves another year of control, similar to what the Rays did with Evan Longoria in 2008. If the Braves really wanted to save money, they could hold Heyward in the minors until mid-May to avoid Super Two status.
The Braves may feel, however, that Heyward is likely to exceed automated projections. They may consider intangibles such as the potential fan reaction to sending Heyward down. They may simply decide that winning is the only priority, and a full season of Heyward gives them the best chance to win. O'Brien has heard nothing about service time manipulation from Braves officials, "publicly or privately."
O'Brien brings up an interesting point: maybe the Braves already have designs to "make a multi-year contract offer well before [Heyward] hits arbitration," reducing the importance of Heyward's service time. Longoria certainly didn't take offense to the Rays' approach; he inked his team-friendly extension less than a week after his big league debut.