If you watched Heathcott & Mustellier collide in right-center, both are ok.— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) February 28, 2013
If you were watching Thursday's home game against the Blue Jays you probably saw something pretty ugly happen. Slade Heathcott dove for a ball and ended up tackling Ronnier Mustelier to the ground instead. Mustelier is a big dude. B-Ref has him listed at 5'10, 210 pounds, while Heathcott is 6'1 and 190 pounds and I have a mind to believe, just by looking at them, that Mustelier might weigh more than that and Slade might weigh less than that. No one got hurt, Ronnier seemed all smiles, but we don't care as much about him; we care about Slade Heathcott. He could have injured himself (and others) and his freestyle of play needs to be reigned in.
As good of a prospect as he is, Heathcott cannot stay healthy. He tore up his knee playing football in high school, he injured his shoulder diving for a ball there too. He's had left shoulder surgery twice, once after the 2010 season and again after the 2011 season. He has yet to play the equivalent of one full MLB season and hasn't played more than 70 games since 2010 when he was in Charleston. Last year was the first time he was an active player for the last game of the season in a long time. Yet he's still hitting and still performing and still getting promoted.
He's also still diving for balls, crashing into walls, and tearing his body apart. I'm not advocating that he be completely shut down in the way he plays. Not everyone is as naturally talented as Robinson Cano, and some players actually have to exert themselves in order to be good enough. Heathcott came out and said that he can't stop playing the way he does because then he wouldn't be as good. Maybe that's true. Brett Gardner feels the same way. He needs to dive and slide head first and sacrifice his body in order to be the best player he can be. Gardner has paid that price before: a broken thumb in 2009 from sliding headfirst into second, aggravating it again in 2010, and missed most of 2012 after injuring his elbow diving for a ball.
Heathcott has already paid the price and he's still just 22. Gardner's injuries didn't start until he was 25, well past when he was still being molded into the player he could be. Slade still has a lot of development to do and injury has cost him a lot of time. The question has never been if he will be good, but if he'll even make it to Triple-A alive. The Yankees need him and they need him alive and intact.
Slade Heathcott is a center fielder and part of a center fielder's job is to maintain order in the outfield. They call for the ball; they have priority. I don't know who was to blame in that Heathcott-Mustelier collision, but that's the reason why it happened. Slade was invoking his dominance over the outfield.
The Yankees have been fortunate enough to not only have three top prospects that play the outfield, but also have them coming up at the same time at the same level. Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott may all be in Double-A Trenton to start the year and it will give them a chance to develop a working relationship together. One of the questions that has been brought up is who should play centerfield. Tyler Austin is a right fielder, but Mason Williams, who is said to have Gardner-like skills, is also a center fielder.
The Yankees need to make the decision to install Heathcott in left field and put Williams in center. This way the organization still has a top defensive centerfield prospect, but also has a strong left fielder who can hopefully stay healthy. Maybe Heathcott will be called off more balls to left-center and will be able to save himself from ranging around and diving all over the outfield. Then maybe he won't be trying to attack his teammates because he won't have that responsibility anymore. It will be Mason Williams' responsibility and he doesn't have to dive nearly as much to get to those balls. I think that everyone would be happier with a top flight left fielder than a broken down center fielder any day.