Jason Heyward is an excellent baseball player. Jason Heyward did things, as a 20 year-old rookie, which most players never accomplish at any point of their careers. Based on his eye-popping numbers and the sheer size of the Braves right-fielder, many believed Heyward was on the fast track to stardom. Thanks to the nebulous definition of the word “star”, some might argue Jason Heyward already was a star after his first full year at the big league level.

Then the sophomore slump did its work. Heyward struggled in 2011, battling swing issues and shoulder injuries for much of the year. New Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez shuttled Heyward up and down the order as bloggers and (some) fans gnashed their teeth. The bulk of the fan base seemed to turn on Heyward, questioning his effort and dedication to The Braves Way.

Jason Heyward is too good to be bad. Jason Heyward was hurt. In 2012, Jason Heyward vows to be back.

For all the talk about Heyward’s confidence and noted mathematician Chipper Jones’ assurances in the above-linked Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece, the most crucial aspect of Jason Heyward’s return to greatness is health. Which, he assures reporter Carroll Rogers, is no longer an issue.

He did physical therapy to build strength in his shoulder twice a week, workouts with weights at the gym three times a week and for the first time he started a regular routine of running and cardio-work. Look closely in the pool at L.A. Fitness you might have even seen Heyward swimming laps.

He made an effort to slim down, dropping from 256 pounds last spring to 235 now. He’s eating fewer steaks and junk food and adding fruits and healthy snacks to meals of salads, fish, chicken or pasta.

Best shape of his life, even? Heyward notes his new slimmed-down figure is closer to his 2010 playing weight, eschewing the beefier build he thought would help him improve in 2011.

Heyward and his long-time hitting coach worked to return Heyward’s swing to its 2010 levels, free of the hitches and compensations made for his wonky shoulder. It is all music to the ears of Braves fans, but will it actually work?

Swing issues seem very touchy-feely and often difficult to pinpoint, especially if swing problems relate directly back to nagging injuries to key body parts. The health of Jason Heyward’s shoulder is, by far, the single greatest variable standing between Heyward and a return to 5 WAR greatness.

His batting eye is unmatched and he showed the ability to post big time numbers at the highest level while playing terrific right field. Even in a terrible down year Heyward still posted 2 Wins Above Replacement.

He is still younger than three of MLB.com’s top 10 outfield prospects. If the Braves run out of patience with their homegrown monster, you can bet the line of General Managers eager to swoop in for the gigantic outfielder will be mighty, mighty long.