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Jason Heyward to open Braves season as right fielder

From Wire Reports Reports

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Braves' rookie sensation Jason Heyward a graduate of Henry County High School, will open the season as Atlanta's regular right fielder.

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

The 20-year-old Heyward went into Friday's game against Detroit batting .366 with a homer and five RBIs in 41 at-bats this spring. He had a .500 on-base percentage and .537 slugging average.

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

Heyward learned he had made the team during a meeting with Cox early 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 about making the team, but 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."

The Braves could have delayed Heyward's arbitration 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 .323 with 17 homers over three minor league stops. He started in Class-A and ended in Triple-A.

"We saw last summer that he was a player on a quick ascent," 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."

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 Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday.

Now the question is which number Heyward will wear this season. He has been No. 71 this spring.

"I know, but it's a secret," Heyward said.