Archive for Slade Heathcott
Following a monster .388/.494/.602 (192 wRC+) effort with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League in recent weeks, Slade Heathcott was named the sixth best prospect in the circuit by Baseball America (subs. req’d). The write-up noted that at least one evaluator considered him the league’s top prospect.
“Heathcott displays an aggressive approach and smooth left-handed swing with above-average raw power,” wrote Baseball America. “His plus speed makes him an extra-base hit machine, although he is still improving his stolen base ability … Heathcott’s intensity made him one of the most exciting players to watch this fall, and it showed itself in his laying out for flyballs, frequently taking the extra base and once even bulldozing the catcher.” That all-out style of play has been his downfall so far, leading to three left shoulder injuries including two that required surgery. Heathcott could be a star if healthy, but so far that’s been a challenge.
Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You need a subscription for them. The four names atop the list shouldn’t be a surprise (the order might), but things do get a little wacky after that. Let’s break it down…
- OF Mason Williams
- OF Slade Heathcott
- C Gary Sanchez
- OF Tyler Austin
- RHP Jose Campos
- RHP Brett Marshall
- 2B Angelo Gumbs
- LHP Manny Banuelos
- RHP Ty Hensley
- RHP Rafael DePaula
Two things stand out about the list. First, the Yankees are suddenly very top heavy with position player prospects, particularly outfielders. Outside of Jesus Montero, their recent top tens were mostly dominated by upper level arms. The Yankees are going to need that infusion of young bats and relatively soon, but Heathcott is only position player on the list who I think will open next year at Double-A. Austin has a chance, but it would surprise me a bit.
Secondly, everyone’s hurt. Five of those ten guys missed significant time this season due to injury, and that doesn’t include Hensley’s shoulder “abnormality” or the month Austin missed with a mild concussion. Heathcott (shoulder) obviously came back healthy and Gumbs (elbow) has as well (based on the fact that he’s playing winter ball), plus Williams (shoulder) was just cleared to resume workouts. Banuelos will miss all of next season with Tommy John surgery though, and a club official said Campos (elbow) will “hopefully” be ready for Spring Training in the subscriber-only write-up. That doesn’t sound promising, but what can you do.
The write-ups include scouting grades (on the 20-80 scale) for each team’s top prospect and the grades for Williams are just insane — 60 hit, 60 power, 70 speed, 70 defense, 50 arm. That’s four above-average tools and one average one. Those are future grades and not present — they think he’ll grow into a 60 hitter, not that he is one today — but they still seem a little optimistic, particularly the power. A 60/60 bat is a .290-.300 hitter with 25 or so homers. Add the 70 speed and 70 defense and you’ve got 30+ steals and near Gold Glove defense. That’s a star player, it’s Grady Sizemore in his prime, but again the grades strike me as optimistic based on everything we’ve heard about Williams to this point.
Elsewhere in the write-up they note that Heathcott offers “explosive tools” — yesterday Keith Law said Heathcott has louder tools than Williams, though Mason is more refined — and that while Sanchez doesn’t stack up to Montero offensively, he has a much better chance of sticking behind the plate. Campos was “electric” before getting hurt while Banuelos was still struggling to command his fastball. They call DePaula the biggest x-factor in the system and say his “ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor league pitcher.” He’ll make the big jump to High-A Tampa next year.
With Banuelos essentially out for the season, the only top ten prospect who figures to spend significant time at Triple-A next year will be Marshall. The Yankees will have Adam Warren and maybe a veteran signing or two ahead of him on the call-up depth chart, possibly even Dellin Betances if things break right. The talent gap that has been slowly climbing the ladder in recent years has hit Triple-A, meaning the Bombers will have to make sure they bring in some depth pieces via free agency to shore up potential holes on the big league roster. The team’s top prospects just aren’t in a position to help next year, and maybe not in 2014 as well.
After placing three prospects on the Low-A South Atlantic League list last week, the Yankees had four prospects on Baseball America’s top 20 High-A Florida State League prospects today. OF Tyler Austin ranked eighth while C Gary Sanchez was right behind him at number nine. OF Slade Heathcott and LHP Nik Turley were further down at 17th and 18th, respectively. Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez topped the list and was followed by former Yankees first rounder RHP Gerrit Cole, now with the Pirates. The list is free for all.
Austin and Sanchez ranked fourth and fifth in the Sally League list last week, respectively, and the subscriber-only scouting reports were nearly identical. “Austin’s most notable asset may be his ability to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat,” wrote the publication while adding that Sanchez has “learned that he could (hit) balls over the fence without swinging from his heels.” OF Mason Williams only got 86 plate appearances with High-A Tampa before injuring his shoulder, so he didn’t have enough playing time to qualify for the list. RHP Mark Montgomery had enough innings to qualify but just didn’t make the cut.
The 21-year-old Heathcott garnered some high praise for his exciting tools, including “above-average power and plus-plus speed.” The major concern is his durability, as he’s already had two left shoulder surgeries since being drafted in 2009 and plays with the kind of reckless abandon that could make it difficult for him to stay on the field consistently. Playing all-out is great, but Slade probably needs to scale it back a bit. An opposing manager said Heathcott was his “favorite player in the league … He can flat-out play the game. He has great energy, he plays defense, he runs and he has power. He did it all against us. It’s just a matter of staying on the field.”
Turley, 23, drew comparisons to Andy Pettitte for his big frame and delivery. The 6-for-6, 230 lbs. southpaw “works his 89-92 mph fastball to both sides of the plate, setting up a big-breaking curveball that can freeze hitters.” Baseball America notes that his changeup is erratic, but he uses his size to throw downhill and generate ground balls (49% this season). The Pettitte comparisons are lofty and will create unrealistic expectations, so I feel obligated to tell you that when Andy was Turley’s age, he was already in the big leagues and in the team’s rotation for good.
The next list relevant to the Yankees is the Double-A Eastern League, which will be released tomorrow. The only Yankees farmhands who are candidates for that list are RHP Brett Marshall, OF Zoilo Almonte, and IF David Adams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were shut out of the top 20 entirely. Good but not great prospects rarely crack a Double-A top 20. The Yankees didn’t place anyone on the Short Season NY-Penn League or Rookie Gulf Coast League lists.
MLB.com recently rolled out their team top 20 prospects lists, and they have C Gary Sanchez claiming the top spot for the Yankees. OF Mason Williams and OF Tyler Austin round out the top three. Those are the names you’re going to see at the top of the club’s prospect lists all offseason, just not necessarily in that order. A healthy OF Slade Heathcott and an unhealthy LHP Manny Banuelos occupy the four and five slots, respectively.
The feature includes write-ups on all 20 players and in some cases, video as well. The MLB.com lists are always off the beaten path a bit — both UTIL Jose Pirela (#15) and RHP Zach Nuding (#19) cracked the top 20 over RHP Brett Marshall — which I enjoy just for the change of pace. Only two of the club’s top ten prospects are pitchers compared to three top ten position players from the 2010 draft alone. That’s a major difference compared to the last few seasons, when the top-end of the list was dominated by the guys on the mound.
12:02pm: Via Josh Norris, the Yankees will indeed send Heathcott to the AzFL. He says they’re also likely to send RHP Dan Burawa (oblique, rib) if he gets healthy in time, and other players in consideration for a trip to Arizona include RHP Zach Nuding, RHP Tommy Kahnle, LHP Matt Tracy, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Branden Pinder, and RHP Preston Claiborne.
10:00am: Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are planning to send C Austin Romine and 2B David Adams to the Arizona Fall League after the season. Both players have missed time with injuries not just this year, but last year as well. Romine (back) only has 70 plate appearances this season while Adams (ankle, neck) has 328 plate appearances. He’s been working out at third base lately and could get more time there in the desert.
The rosters have not been officially announced as of yet but that could happen as soon as next week. OF Slade Heathcott would make sense for an AzFL trip as well after missing the first half of the season due to shoulder surgery, though he would count as their one Single-A player. Neither LHP Manny Banuelos or RHP Jose Campos will be eligible because they were not on an active roster within 45 days of the end of the season. The rules are weird, I know. Each teams sends seven players, usually three position players and four pitchers.
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.
Got four questions for you this week, and they all relate to prospects. Well, minor leaguers. Let’s put it that way. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime, including mailbag questions.
Nick asks: Ramiro Pena. DFA or not DFA?
Yes, Ramiro Pena was designated for assignment last week. However, he remains on the 40-man roster. It’s weird, but this situation comes up once or twice a year around the league. Because he had made his Major League debut more than three calendar years ago, Pena had to clear optional waivers to go to the minors. Those are revocable, so players always clear.
Pena was designated to be sent to the minors, not necessarily to be removed from the 40-man or kicked out of the organization. It’s weird, but it happens. The Athletics designated Jerry Blevins for assignment in this exact situation multiple times last year, prompting The Todd Van Poppel Rookie Card Retirement Plan to contact the team about what exactly was going on. Check out this post for more info on the procedure. The Yankees will have to do the same thing if they recall Pena and try to send him back down again later this season, and it’s completely harmless.
Andrew asks: Any chance we see Slade Heathcott start to climb the organizational ladder again anytime soon? I know he’s had a tough time staying healthy, but his bat seems to be fine since his return and he’s even back out in the field.
I think he’ll stay with High-A Tampa through the end of the season, which at this point is about three weeks away. He’s only played the field a handful of times since coming back from the second shoulder surgery, and even counting last season he still has fewer than 175 plate appearances at the level. Slade is hitting extremely well this season with surprising power and a lower than usual strikeout rate, but he pretty much just got there. I’m hoping he continues to perform this way through the end of the season and the Yankees bump him up to Double-A Trenton to start next season. In a perfect world both Heathcott and Mason Williams will be playing center field on an everyday basis in 2013.
Steve asks: Could Jeremy Bleich sneak his way on to the roster this off-season, especially if he keeps up his solid return as a reliever? He’s Rule 5 Draft eligible, he throws with his left hand, and besides Boone Logan and Clay Rapada, the only other upper-level lefties are Justin Thomas, Juan Cedeno, and Mike O’Connor, none of which are of value. I could totally see an NL team plucking him and getting good use of him.
Nah, I don’t see it happening. Bleich is coming off the shoulder surgery and is going to finish the season with about 50 innings to his credit, likely none above Double-A. I haven’t heard anything about how his stuff looks post-surgery but it wasn’t anything special when he was healthy anyway. Thomas and O’Connor (and Pedro Feliciano) are goners after the season but I think the Yankees are going to add Cedeno to the 40-man to keep him from becoming a minor league free agent. That means they’ll have him, Logan, and Rapada as lefty specialists going into next year, plus other guys like Josh Romanski and (particularly Francisco Rondon coming up behind them.
I’m not quite sold on Bleich’s ability to stick on a 25-man roster next season — unless he’s come back with mind-blowing stuff, which we surely would have heard about by now — so I would leave him unprotected. If some team takes him and he sticks, so be it. Losing a left-handed reliever isn’t the end of the world, especially one that probably isn’t worth a 40-man roster spot on a contending team just yet.
Howie asks: It’s almost September call-up time. I figure we’ll see a bunch of 40-man guys called up (Ryota Igarashi, Thomas, Adam Warren, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez and Francisco Cervelli seem like no-brainers), but would you expect to see a David Adams or Corban Joseph? What about Dellin Betances after his struggles? Any non-40 man roster guys? Chris Dickerson seems like he deserves it. Would a pitcher like Cedeno or Chase Whitley get the call to soak up innings?
The standings atop the Triple-A International League North Division are very tight at the moment, so Empire State is right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Assuming they stay in the race and qualify for the postseason, we’ll only see the bare minimum call-ups on September 1st. That means a third catcher (Cervelli or Austin Romine? I’d go Frankie so Romine can get regular at-bats in Triple-A), another infielder (Nunez seems obvious, though there’s always Ramiro), and at least two more bullpen arms. Igarashi and Thomas seem likely since they’re already on the 40-man, though Warren is probably better off getting the innings as a starter in the Triple-A playoffs.
Once the Triple-A playoff drive is over, almost everyone will come up. Laird, Warren, Romine/Cervelli, maybe CoJo and Melky Mesa, all those folks. I would be very surprised if they called up Adams even though he’s on the 40-man and they have him working out at third. He seems like a candidate to join the team for workouts but not be activated to the roster. I said before that I think they’ll add Cedeno to the 40-man, but that probably won’t happen until after the season. The 40-man roster is clogged up enough as it is at the moment. Dickerson’s probably the only other non-40-man guy worth a call-up, plus he might actually be useful next season. There aren’t any Rule 5 eligible guys worth calling up early either, the pitchers like Brett Marshall, Nik Turley, and Mike O’Brien aren’t the types of kids you call up in September. They can come hang out with the team and watch from the stands instead.
This has been a down year for the farm system for the most part, though the most notable exception is the emergence of Tyler Austin from interesting guy to high-end prospect. The Yankees signed the 20-year-old for $135k as their 13th round pick back in 2010, and he’s rewarded them by hitting .322/.404/.583 with 15 homers and 18 steals (in 20 tries) across two levels of Single-A this year. Both Baseball America and Keith Law recently ranked him as one of the 50 best prospects in the game.
The numbers certainly pass the sniff test and at 6-foot-2 and 200 lbs., Austin passes the eye test as well. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, a former Yankees intern, scouted him during a recent High-A Tampa game and published the write-up yesterday. It’s an excellent and lengthy Insider-only read, so I can’t give away too much. Here are the most relevant points…
He’s a below-average runner with choppy steps and some thickness to a 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. Austin’s arm is slightly above-average, so he can play right field, and he’s quick enough to stay there for now … There is a risk for barring his lead arm and/or a loopy path in how he moves his hands, but Austin has good enough feel for his swing that this hasn’t been a problem in games I’ve seen … Austin’s strength, bat speed and hips combine to create above-average to plus raw power that is most natural to the opposite gap, an encouraging sign for power showing up in games and translating at higher levels … The separator for Austin is his advanced plan, feel and plate coverage that is fueled by his quick hands and allows him to tap into his raw power in games. Austin has a tough profile and little margin for error, but he’s got a good chance to reach his ceiling of .275-.280 average with 25 homers.
Mike Newman passed along a similar report when he caught Austin a few weeks ago, saying the stolen base totals — 36-for-38 in steal attempts for his career — are not indicative of his actual speed and athleticism, and that the swing can get a little flat. Both guys agree that the (hard to find) right-handed pop and opposite field stroke are for real though, ditto the advanced approach that allows Austin to wait for his pitch and take ball four (11.3% walk rate) if he doesn’t get anything to hit.
The long-term concern here is position. Austin was drafted as a catcher and moved to third base almost immediately. He shifted to right field this season in part due to a lack of hot corner quickness, but also because of the presence of Dante Bichette Jr., last year’s first rounder. McDaniel notes that Austin may have to move to first base long-term, though hopefully he can stave off that fate for a few years ago. Either way, Austin’s carrying tool is his bat and if ever reaches the big leagues, it’ll be because he hit his way there. Don’t count on defensive value.
Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has a bit of a spotty track record when it comes to first round/top picks, but he and his scouting staff just kill it in the late rounds, particularly on the mound. They consistently find power arms to feed the bullpen pipeline and dangle in trades, but Austin at least has the potential to be their best late-round find yet as an impact hitter from the right side of the plate. The Yankees are going to need to add some cheap bats to the lineup in the coming years, and Austin could have himself on the big league radar by 2014 if he stays healthy and progresses as hoped.
Just FYI, McDaniel also commented on outfielders Slade Heathcott (“shows big tools with above-average left-handed power and above-average speed that makes for a potentially enticing center-field package”) and Ramon Flores (“the tools are short for big league impact”). Last week he covered Mason Williams and some of those bullpen arms.
The minor league season actually starts before the Major League season this year, though by just one day. Usually the bush leagues kick off like, two weeks after the big boys. Not sure what’s up with that. Anyway, here are some interesting minor league notes courtesy of Chad Jennings…
- VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed that Dante Bichette Jr. will start this season with Low-A Charleston. He’s skipping right over Short Season Staten Island. Tyler Austin will be there as well, and he’s going to play right field while Bichette gets the hot corner. I prefer that to having them share third and DH or something.
- That Charleston team figures to be stacked, by the way. Bichette, Austin, Mason Williams, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs, Jose Campos, Bryan Mitchell, Ben Gamel, Evan DeLuca, and Matt Tracy should all be there. Gary Sanchez could be back for an encore as well.
- “He’s going to be ready close to the start of the season … He came back unbelievably fast,” said Newman of Ravel Santana. The outfielder will head to SI once the season starts in June.
- Remember when Slade Heathcott said his latest shoulder surgery will keep him out until May? He was being optimistic. Newman says he’ll be back in June. Sucks.
- Jeremy Bleich is throwing bullpen sessions following the shoulder procedure that cost him most of 2010 and all of 2011. I have to think we’ll see him in a game at some point, assuming the surgically repaired wing holds up.
It’s been a rough few years for 2009 first round pick Slade Heathcott, who signed for $2.2M and has since undergone two left (throwing) shoulder surgeries and battled alcoholism. As the now 21-year-old outfielder says in the video above, the latest shoulder procedure is expected to delay the start of his season and keep him out until May.
“I’m trying not to rush it,” he said. “I’m trying to take as long as possible without being aggressive. I’m trying to be in games around May.”
Heathcott is known for his very aggressive and hard-nosed style of play, which has been a bit of detriment. He was limited to mostly DH duty as a high school senior because of a torn ACL and a left shoulder injury he suffered diving after a ball. This latest surgery is his third major left shoulder problem in the last four years. Since signing, he’s only played in 132 of ~240 possible games. That’s a lot of development time he can’t get back.
I had Heathcott 13th on my annual Top 30 Prospects List, though Baseball America, Keith Law, and FanGraphs each had him in the top ten. He was having a really nice season in 2011 before the injury (.279/.347/.437 in 242 PA), so now he’s got to just focus on staying on the field. The kid just won’t be able to get any better if he doesn’t stop getting hurt.