Archive for Slade Heathcott
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.
We’re all focusing on the big league team right now, but Chad Jennings took some time to check in with VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman about some minor league business. I suggest heading over and reading the whole thing, but the important stuff I want to highlight are the injury updates…
- David Adams is still rehabbing from that brutal ankle injury he suffered in May 2010, and he’s scheduled to arrive in Tampa for early Spring Training work next month. The Yankees added Adams to the 40-man roster last month, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.
- Slade Heathcott figures to be behind other position players in Spring Training as he rehabs from his second left shoulder surgery in as many years. It’s his third left shoulder injury since 2009, his senior year of high school, and they’ve limited him to just 132 games over the last 2+ seasons. They’re a very real problem.
- J.R. Murphy is 100% ready to go after missing the end of last season due to a foot/ankle injury suffered when he apparently fouled a pitch off himself. Newman says he will “predominantly” catch in 2012, as he should given the significant improvement in his defense.
- Remember Jeremy Bleich? The Yankees highest signed pick from the 2008 draft hasn’t pitched since May 2010 due to major shoulder surgery, and Newman says he’s still rehabbing.
Yesterday we talked about Baseball America’s lists of the top tools in the big leagues, and today they released their lists for Triple-A, Double-A, and Single-A (subs. req’d). Not too many Yankees farmhand made the cut, only Brandon Laird (best defensive 3B), Ramon Flores (best plate discipline), and Slade Heathcott (best defensive outfielder) took home honors at their respective levels. Jesus Montero got beat out by Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox) for top power prospect, Dellin Betances by Henderson Alvarez (Blue Jays) for best fastball, Manny Banuelos by Eric Surkamp (Giants) for best changeup, and Gary Sanchez by Bryce Harper for best power prospect. Seems like the Yanks have a lot of guys that would rank second, third, or fourth in the various categories rather than first.