Yankees Prospects: 2014 is a big year for Slade Heathcott

US PRESSWIRE

If he has a healthy and productive 2014 season, Slade Heathcott could find himself as the Opening Day left fielder in the Bronx come 2015.

After getting poor production from their outfielders in 2013, the Yankees committed big money this off-season to outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. As a result, the Yankees' outfield is now jam-packed with five outfielders and only three spots available. However, the outfield should become a lot less crowded with the impending free agencies of Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, and Ichiro Suzuki, all of whom could very well be gone by this time next year. Thankfully, there are outfielders at the upper levels of the farm system, namely Slade Heathcott, who could step in next season.

Heathcott's 2013 was a bit of a rollercoaster, which, really, is nothing new for him. His season started off pretty rocky, in which he hit just .230/.284/.338 in 163 plate appearances through May 24. He also struck out a whopping 27% of the time. Thankfully, the then 22-year-old caught fire at the plate, as he posted a .279/.351/.454 line through his next 281 plate apperances. His strikeout rate dropped as well, as he posted a more respectable 22% K-rate. However, Heathcott's hot stretch lasted only until August 10, as the outfielder, once again, suffered an injury. This time, it was a knee injury, which needed minor surgery. All told, Heathcott hit .261/.327/.411 with a 104 wRC+ in 444 Double-A plate appearances.

The Yankees' Senior VP of Baseball Operations, Mark Newman, recently said that "it'll be close" as to whether Heathcott will begin 2014 in Double-A Trenton or Triple-A Scranton. This has more to do with the uncertainty of whether Heathcott will be ready for spring training or not, as he recovers from surgery, than it has to do with his (somewhat) underwhelming 2013 season. Because the Double-A outfield has a chance to be pretty packed with the likes of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and even Ramon Flores, Heathcott should be in Scranton, if healthy.

A natural center fielder, Heathcott will have to move to a corner spot, possibly left field, if he wants to crack next year's big league squad. Because of his all-out style of play in center, perhaps a move to left could do Heathcott some good, since he'll (theoretically) have fewer chances to wreck himself out there. With only three career games in left, it will be interesting to see how the Yankees use Heathcott and if he will see more time in left field since Ellsbury will handle center field in the Bronx for the foreseeable future.

Despite all of Heathcott's past injury problems, which have led to plenty of lost development time, he does have a chance to replace Gardner in left field next season. The big "if," obviously, is his health. After missing ample time due to injuries and having to undergo numerous procedures to heal said injuries, maybe, just maybe, Heathcott has learned his lesson and will dial it down a few notches on the aggressive meter. With the only guarantees in 2015 being Ellsbury in center and maybe Beltran in right, Heathcott, who is the furthest along and the best outfield prospect in the system, in my opinion, should see this opportunity and do his best to take advantage of it.

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