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Is Heyward back to take phenom crown?

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Before Washington's Bryce Harper and Los Angeles' Mike Trout captivated the fantasy landscape with their youthful exuberance and inconceivable skills, there was another superhuman who did the same two years ago.

That half-man, half-amazing specimen was Jason Heyward of Atlanta, who burst onto the scene back in 2010 as a 20-year-old, 6-foot-5 freak of nature who could hit for power, take a walk and rob plenty of hits in right field.

Heyward's sophomore slump in 2011 had fantasy owners asking, "Where have you gone, J-Hey?" June has revealed Heyward's answer: nowhere.

The now 22-year-old outfielder is hitting .395 (30-for-76) with eight doubles, six home runs, 14 RBI and a 1.183 OPS this month, bringing his season line to .282 with 12 homers, 37 RBI, 41 runs and 10 stolen bases.

Fantasy owners might be quick to assume that not only has Heyward figured everything out at the plate, he's also progressed physically, which is a scary concept considering the 240-pound Heyward already looks like he was created in a laboratory. However, I'm a bit skeptical that he can keep this up.

While Heyward may be growing into a perennial 30-homer bat, his walk rate has plummeted for the second straight season. He walked 14.6 percent of the time in his rookie year, according to FanGraphs. That fell to 11.2 percent last season and has settled in at 9.4 percent this year.

And while his strikeout rate remained steady the last two seasons (20.5 percent in 2010, 20.4 percent in 2011), that number has jumped to 22.3 percent this year.

Heyward is swinging at more pitches -- his swing percentage is up to 46 percent after coming in at 39 percent in his rookie season. However, he's making contact on 73 percent of swings, compared to 78 percent his rookie year. Right now, that approach is working for Heyward because he's driving strikes for extra-base hits, but if he starts going out of the zone more and more as the season progresses, his average may plummet. He'll have to rely on his tremendous physical gifts to hit pitches that aren't hittable for the average player as pitchers catch on to Heyward's approach.

There are some positives with Heyward this year. He's become an extreme fly ball hitter, blasting 0.61 ground balls for every fly ball, and his line drive percentage has improved from 12 percent to 19 percent. As a result, his extra- base hit percentage is up to 11.2 percent from 7.5 percent last season.

If he can keep those figures steady, he should be able to continue to hit for power, keeping his slugging percentage above .500. However, I don't think he'll be able to keep that batting average above .270 due to a lack of walks and a ton of strikeouts. If his batting average ends up around .260, his OBP will be in the .330 to .340 range.

While my final projected numbers for the former phenom -- .264, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 19 SB -- will still be valuable to most fantasy teams, those numbers might be disappointing to someone predicting Heyward will get his average over .300, slug 35 bombs and drive in 100 runs this season based on his June surge.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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