The first time one meets Yankees outfield prospect Slade Heathcott, it’s easy to come away impressed.
To begin with, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound native of Texarkana, Texas, passes the eye test. The man simply fills the picture of an athlete perfectly. One knows there is exceptional athletic ability there.
One also knows about the 23-year-old’s tormented past, which we won’t go into here. Heathcott now looks ahead, taking things as they come day-by-day. He got off to a strong start in Tuesday’s 5-5 tie with the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., going 2-for-2 with a double.
“I want to better in every way, both on and off the field, tomorrow than today,” he said.
That has not been easy over the last few seasons, as Heathcott faced a few shoulder surgeries and an operation last summer to fix a meniscus issue in his right knee that limited him to nine games at Trenton in 2014. He dropped from the Yankees’ No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America to out of the list after being non-tendered on December to make room on the 40-man roster.
Matters, however, are not bleak for the Yankees’ top draft pick (taken 29th) in the 2009 draft. Heathcott was re-signed to a minor-league pact Jan. 5, and life at home is good with his wife, Jessica, whom he married in Tampa. He has started over before from challenges tougher than this.
Religion has settled his life, given him a guide and boost to showing the type of talent the Yankees invested a bonus of $2.2 million in 2009.
The challenge for Heathcott is to stay healthy. Several of his injuries have come from his all-out style, that of slamming into walls and simply playing at a frenetic pace. Luckily, the shoulder surgeries have not degraded his above-average arm, and the knee surgery did not limit his speed, which is top-of-the-line.
Only in 2013 at Double-A Trenton, did Heathcott bat over 400 times, putting together a .261 (104-for-399) average with 22 doubles, seven triples, eight homers and 49 RBIs. He was hitting well for the Thunder until his knee malady forced him to sit out the final 40 games as Trenton won its third Eastern League title under manager Tony Franklin.
He played 103 games in 2013 and, for much of his last two months, was one of the best all-around players in the Eastern League, batting ,306 for the month of July. He showed good routes to the ball in the outfield, picked up a few assists and built a reputation that he was tough to take the extra base against.
One matter Heathcott needed to work at that point was plate discipline. He did strike out 107 times and walked just 36 in his 444 plate appearances in 2013. Last season, with the knee barking, he appeared in just nine games, batting .182 (6-for-33) and favoring his right leg in the field.
“He (Heathcott) was getting better at pitch selection when he got hurt in 2013,” said Franklin.”He really played well for two months, was just getting it all together.
“Like everyone, I’m really anxious to see what Slade does this season. If he can stay healthy, he has quite a package of talent.”
When he was healthy in Trenton in 2013, he sprayed hard-hit line drives all over the field from the left side, bashing a few impressive shots over the right-field wall at Arm & Hammer Park. With improved selection, will come more home runs.
Heathcott will likely head to Triple-A Scranton, where he’ll find himself in the outfield with fellow 23-year-old Tyler Austin, who also is aiming to continue to re-establish himself. What both do in the International League, will be looked at quite closely by Yankees development staff.
“I know I have to think out there a bit more, and take better care of my body out in the field,” Heathcott said. “It’s part of being a better player overall.”
The odds are Heathcott, with more experience and more maturity, is on his way to doing just that.
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