Heathcott Learning On The Fly

Heathcott is hitting .308 in his last ten games

TRENTON, NJ - A first round draft pick of the Yankees in 2009, the athleticism and raw talent has always been there for Slade Heathcott wherever he goes. At the same time, the injury bug has bitten him often in his young career. With a pair of shoulder surgeries and patellar tendonitis while at Spring Training in March, the challenge has been playing time for the Trenton Thunder centerfielder.

"Slade is a tremendous athlete, tremendously hard on himself, and he wants to do very well," hitting coach Justin Turner said. "At-bat wise, he's still behind. He has missed a lot of time due to injuries, and he's kind of learning on the fly in Double-A. And it's not an easy transition from single-A ball to Double-A ball."

Despite having his Spring Training experience cut short, he enjoyed his first time participating in big league camp and he learned a lot about being a professional ballplayer for the Yankees.

"Spring training was a lot of fun," Heathcott said. "I have never been over there, so being around those guys and seeing how they handle themselves in the clubhouse and their work ethic they show on the field was a good experience. Just the opportunity to be there is fun."

At the beginning of the season, knowing his injury history, the coaching staff wanted to be conservative in their approach to Heathcott's playing time so that he could play his game 100 percent in the long run.

"He was in and out of the lineup, and we've tried to be cautious with him as far as injuries are, but he doesn't seem to have any effects from [the knee injury] now," Thunder Manager Tony Franklin said. "He's a full go, running well, sliding, so I don't think the injury has held him back by any means."

This year, he started his Double-A season batting less than .200 throughout the month of April and into the first few games in May.

His aggression and competitiveness sometimes affects his pitch selection at the plate. He can hit, run, and create havoc offensively. But in order to do those things, he needs to have a good pitch selection and be patient.

"He's always in hit mode," Turner said. "Sometimes it's a matter of trying to run out of the box because he can use his speed, and put something in play. It speeds everything up, and affects his pitch selection, so we try to slow it down and say to get a good pitch, make sure you see it first, and put a good swing on it."

However since May 4, he's picked his game up very well. Heathcott had hit .296 in the previous 15 games entering Monday night and then chipped in with a three-hit performance in Richmond which has brought his average above .235 for the season.

"I think Slade is starting to get the sense of how guys are trying to pitch him," Franklin said. "He's made a pretty good adjustment to that. He was quite anxious the first month of the season and I think he's settled down now and in control of what he's trying to do offensively and it's starting to show."

One adjustment that has helped has been the movement from leadoff hitter to the fifth or sixth batter in the lineup each night.

"Slade's been a leadoff hitter his whole career," Turner said. "Moving him in the lineup was just to let him see the pitcher a little bit more before he got up there.

"And he's a top-of-the-order guy somewhere down the road. So it's more or less taking heat off of him and having him settle into the game, and he's been doing good since."

Through watching videos of his swing and game consistently, he has put a lot of time to figuring out how to succeed while having fun playing the game.

"I've been putting in video time all year long and I'm working on a lot of different things," Heathcott said. "It's baseball. It's about just trying to figure it out and basically I'm just realizing this is still a kid's game. It's about having fun."

Overall, Heathcott still remains a top five prospect in the New York Yankees' farm system and can be a special player in the big leagues in years to come. Of all the hitters Turner has seen play Trenton, he believes that Heathcott is one of the best.

"Tools-wise, we don't have a player in the system more talented than him," Turner said. "It's just putting it together and understanding that you're going to have bad days and good days.

"Down the road, his good days are going to far outweigh his bad. He works hard, he's a tremendous competitor, and he wants to do well and win. His future is bright."

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