Heathcott makes up for lost time

It's official: Derek Lowe's a Yankee
David Phelps, Derek Lowe, and the rotation
(Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)

2009 first-rounder Slade Heathcott has had to overcome a lot of adversity throughout his life, both on and off the baseball field.  A knee injury in high school and multiple shoulder surgeries have set back Heathcott’s on-field development, and may have robbed him of some of the explosiveness that made him such a tantalizing prospect in high school.  Then of course there are the personal issues, ranging from his unstable family life, his battle with alcoholism, and whatever it was that led him to start a brawl last year after being hit by a pitch.  Given everything he has faced, it would be easy to write Heathcott off as a bust, and assume that his injuries and personal life would prevent him from realizing his prodigious talents.

The second shoulder surgery had me fairly bearish on Heathcott coming into 2012.  I ranked him #12 in the system on my personal top prospects list prior to the season (around where my other Yankee Analysts colleagues had him), and Mike ranked him at #13.  It was kind of low for a prospect with Heathcott’s talent and draft pedigree who had held his own, but given all the risks involved, he could have easily been lower.  Heathcott has fallen behind prospects such as Mason Williams and Tyler Austin in the organizational depth chart, and needed to come back strong this year to stay on the radar.

And come back strong he has.  After a short rehab stint in the GCL, Slade was aggressively bumped up to high-A Tampa, where he had only played one game previously.  In 41 games in Tampa, Heathcott has raked, batting .306/.387/.517, and flashing both power (five homers) and speed (13 steals).  He started out primarily playing DH (most likely to protect his shoulder), but has been eased into outfield duty.  If there is a silver lining to the unfortunate shoulder injury suffered by Mason Williams, it is that it will give Slade the opportunity to get more reps in center field than he otherwise would.  While the numbers have been tremendous, Heathcott has also impressed scouts (or at least one scout).  ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel recently observed that Heathcott was flashing impressive power and speed, and that he still profiled as a center fielder in the future.

Despite everything that Heathcott has been through, he is not far off the normal development track.  He’ll be 22 in September, and is at a fairly appropriate age for his current level.  Obviously all the injuries have caused Slade to miss significant playing time, but the fact that he is looking so good so soon after returning from injury is encouraging.  If he stays healthy the rest of the season and finishes strong (which would be somewhat ironic given all the injuries facing other Yankee prospects), Heathcott should move up the organizational list.  Top 10 seems like a virtual certainty, and top five is not as far-fetched as it may have seemed previously.  As of now I’d have him jumping Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, J.R. Murphy, Austin Romine and Dante Bichette Jr., and possibly Ravel Santana and Ramon Flores.  This would get Slade up to #6 in the system (behind Banuelos, Williams, Sanchez, Austin, and Campos).  Sustaining this level of production could also get Slade some looks for the back end of a minors-wide top 100 list, provided the scouting reports continue to be positive.

In a year where so much has gone wrong for the Yankees’ farm system, Heathcott’s successful return to the minors stands out as a major bright spot.  I will definitely be following to see if he can sustain this production (and health) through the rest of the season, but it is hard to not be impressed with what he has done so far.  Slade has re-established himself as a potential impact player, and is a nice addition to the Yankees’ crop of position player talent that is moving up through the system.  With Slade, Mason Williams, and Ravel Santana, the Yankees have an exciting trio of toolsy center field prospects.  Assuming he finishes 2012 healthy, Heathcott could be the opening day center fielder in AA Trenton, which would put him just two steps away from the majors.  Considering all he has been through, it is remarkable that Heathcott has made it this far.  But if the season so far is any indicator, Slade is capable of even more.

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It's official: Derek Lowe's a Yankee
David Phelps, Derek Lowe, and the rotation
  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    I want to see an outfield of Melky Mesa in CF, Ravel Santana in RF and Slade in LF just to see if any runners dare to test their arms.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Eric Schultz

      That would be awesome. 3 guys with centerfield range and plus arms would make for a great defensive outfield.

    • All Praise Be To Mo

      Where’s Mason in this world?

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        traded for a starter.

        • Brian S.

          An injured starter.

      • Laz

        Mason will start at High A. He only got 22 games there before he went down with an injury.

        • Laz

          And as prospects they won’t all work out. Ravel is still a long ways off.

    • http://www.g6tec.com Jedile

      replace Mesa with Williams and I like this OF. With Mesa/Gardener as 4th OFer. Would be a nice lineup.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        I was speaking defense only, and more specifically OF arms. Now if you throw offense into mix, I agree fully with Willimas being there.

      • All Praise Be To Mo

        I’d trade Gardner for starter in this ideal world. Put him in CF for 1 year next year to boost up his value there and then move him to a team that needs a speedy leadoff cf’er. They can see the market Bourn will set this winter and Gardner will come much cheaper.

        • Laz

          Doubt it will happen. Swisher is a free agent this offseason, and Grandy next. I have trouble seeing either being here long term if they want big money. They will need gardner

  • All Praise Be To Mo

    I hope Slade is healthy and back, he would look awesome in LF in 2014 with Mason in CF and Austin in RF in an ideal world.

    • Laz

      Thats my ideal outfield, but who knows prospects don’t all work out, that is why you need alot.

  • ultimate913

    A lot of if’s, but, if he does start in AA next year and puts up similar numbers to what he is doing this year AND he doesn’t lose any more time(injury, family issues, etc.), I don’t see why he shouldn’t be starting with the major league club in 2014.

    I mean, if the talent level gap between AA and AAA isn’t that big, and AAA is just where most of the veterans are stacked, why not?

  • MannyGeee

    “Assuming he finishes 2012 healthy, Heathcott could be the opening day center fielder in AA Trenton…”

    this would make my 2013.

  • Reggie C.

    Having played just over 40 games probably has put off any season caused physical fatigue these minor leaguers sustain over the long season. Anyways, even if fatigue has started taking its toll on FSL starters, Heathcott’s return to relevancy is no less impressive. This is new offensive ground for Heathcott so though I don’t expect Heathcott to finish the season hitting at the clip he’s at now, I do hope Heathcott finishes looking like a FSL 2nd half All-Star.

    At that point, starting Heathcott next season at Trenton makes total sense.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Good for him. Really would love to see this guy make it all the way.

  • pat

    I’ll be honest, I was pretty much ready to write him off as a lost cause. Between his substance problems, shoulder injuries and a balls to the wall play style that serve to exacerbate said shoulder injuries I figured he’d be one of those 5 tool guys pumping gas in a few years. I am happy to be wrong in the meantime.

  • RetroRob

    I remember he got off to a great start last year, then hit a slump and then the injury, so it was difficult to get a read on where he stood. Glad to see he’s rebounded strong this year.

    AA next year with a late season call-up to AAA if all goes well seems within reason, and then we might start seeing him play in some games in the Bronx at some point in 2014.

  • 28 this year

    Heathcott might be the outfielder we need in order to get 2014 to be realistic. Granderson’s next contract probably has something to do with how Heathcott performs next year because if Heathcott can play all next year with relatively good numbers, i dont think the Yankees extend Granderson focusing those resources on Cano and a pitcher with the hope that Heathcott can fill in the outfield. Its risky but could be better than paying a declining Granderson.

    • Rich in NJ

      I think they have to gauge the market on Granderson during the offseason, and move on any reasonable offer.

      • Laz

        Good idea in theory but then who plays the other 2 outfield spots aside from gardner.

  • aluis

    Is Slade the Yankees’ answer to Mike Trout? And can anybody tell me how does Slade compare to Trout? From what I have heard so far about Slade is that he has some comparable tools as Trout. Can anybody confirm or dispute?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      All roads lead to Mike Trout.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Eric Schultz

      It’s unfair to compare any prospect to Mike Trout, or expect them to perform anywhere as well out of the gate (which I realize you’re not doing). Trout is a generational prospect with incredible tools as well as phenomenal polish and baseball skills. Trout is faster, has a better hit tool, more power (judging by his major league output), is a better defender, and has better plate discipline. Slade probably has a better arm, but that’s about it. Plus, Trout is more than a year younger than Heathcott, putting up better numbers in the majors (while Slade is in high-A).

      Could Slade be a poor man’s Trout if everything works out? Quite possibly, but he has a long way to go to get to that point.

      • Laz

        I’d like to give trout another year. Yes he is talented, but I don’t believe he will have another year like this one repeated. In the minors he never showed this amount of power, Ellsbury has same type of year last year. I just don’t think either will quite repeat their seasons.

    • CP

      I think they have similar skill sets, but Trout is younger and already doing it in the majors so you can’t really compare the level of talent.

    • MannyGeee

      I think Heathcott compares more closely to Barry Bonds… in that unlike Mike Trout, neither of which have an at bat in the majors yet this decade.

      so yeah, lets not crown his ass yet.
      /DennyGreen’d

    • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

      Only Roy Hobbs, Steve Nebraska and maybe Zeus compare to Mike Trout.

  • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

    With Swisher a FA after this year, Granderson almost due a big contract extension not to mention that he’ll be 32 before the start of next season and really should be moved to a corner and Gardner hurt, the Yankees need this bumper crop of young outfielders to develop as quickly as possible.

    • Brian S.

      So I’m guessing no one here thinks Zoilo/Abe Almonte, Mustelier, Adonis, or Melky can contribute next season? I think it would be cool if one of them made the team.

      • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

        I’d be surprised if any one of them was even able to fill the role of 4th outfielder next year.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        To replace Swisher next year? I really, really doubt it. It’d be great if Mesa fixed the hole in his bat, but I’m not banking on it.

      • jjyank

        It would definitely be cool, but I’m not holding my breath.

      • Havok9120

        Contribute? Probably. But should any of them be Plan A?

        • Brian S.

          Better than paying Swisher and his sub 110 wRC+ over ten mil a year.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            It could be much, much, much worse than doing that.

      • Laz

        Almontes are both still in AA. Mustelier has been good in the minors, but he is already 28 and hasn’t reached the majors, he is a career AAAA guy. Melky 25 and just got to AAA, way too early to give him a full time job.

        • YanksFanInBeantown

          Mustelier is a bit tricky because he’s a Cuban guy who was only signed last year. I don’t think it’s fair to write him off as a AAAA guy in his second year in the states.

  • bg90027

    It’s good to see him back and performing at a high level. I’d like to see him show that he can stay healthy before I’d be too aggressive in bumping him up the rankings.

    You would put him above Ty Hensley?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Eric Schultz

      Good catch, I did forget about Hensley (since I was just looking at the preseason top 30). I might still put Slade over Hensley if he keeps this up. Both were late 1st-rounders, but Heathcott has performed at a higher level. Slade certainly has health questions, but Hensley’s shoulder abnormality raises some concerns too. It would definitely be close, though.

    • http://yankeesblogtbnl.blogspot.com Derek

      Definitely good to see him performing well again. Also nice to see one of the organization’s first rounders of late have some success. Thought Bichette broke the mold last year. Obviously his down 2012 isn’t indicative of the future, but just saying.

  • JohnC

    Goodbye Swisher, GrandyMan. hello Upton bothers!

    • Laz

      God no!

      2 extremely overrated players. Upton is good, but the talent that he would require to trade would be too much. His trade value is much higher than it should be. and bj has been deteriorating for several years now.

      • YanksFanInBeantown

        24 year old outfielders with 30-hr seasons to their credit are extremely expensive because their extremely valuable.

        • YanksFanInBeantown

          They’re*

  • http://Riveraveblues Austinmac

    Zeus had a far better arm than any of them. He strengthened it throwing lightning bolts.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Glad to see Heathcott healthy and mashing. Here’s to continued health and success.

    I think the Yanks should let Swisher walk and sign Melky. He’s a contact hitter who has found his niche. He ‘d be a good #2 hitter. He could hit 20 Hrs here. He’d cost around the same AAV, but is younger and better defensively.

    I would try and trade Granderson in the offseason for a young, underachieving OF who has a few years of team control. I’m talking about Jason Heyward of the Braves. He’d be a buy low option, but weren’t Granderson and Swisher? I’m not sold on Granderson being a long-term player due to his high strikeout, pull happy performance at his age and probable salary demands.

    Gardner is the CF, but won’t be under team control forever. This could be the landing spot for Slade or Mason in 2014/15.

    • Laz

      Problem with Heyward is that in his rookie year his splits weren’t that bad, but since then he hasn’t been able to hit lefties.

    • YanksFanInBeantown

      You’re talking about the 23 year old with a higher wRC+ than Grandy? That Jason Heyward?

      Why on Earth would the Braves trade us a younger, better player for Curtis Granderson?

  • vicki

    i hope slade makes it through the system. big team needs a badass; jorgie left a void.

    • aluis

      +1