As was mentioned yesterday, the Yankees have re-signed Slade Heathcott to a minor league deal with an invite to this year's spring training. The re-signing was largely a maneuver to get Heathcott off of the 40-man roster, and now they can keep him around Double-A and Triple-A largely as depth, or just in case of some catastrophic emergency. The move, though, speaks to a larger question: how did Slade Heathcott, a former top prospect and promising young outfielder, get to this point? Let's take a peek at the timeline.
Heathcott was drafted as the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft, and the Yankees were betting that his extremely loud tools would carry him all the way to the majors. He only had 11 plate appearances in 2009, so expectations were not changed going into 2010. Baseball Prospectus's Annual said that "He features great raw power and a history of inactivity due to injuries and bad behavior".
Even then, it was no surprise that he would have a lot to overcome. With a known alcohol problem and some problems at home, it wasn't going to be easy. But because he was able to overcome those issues, the Yankees were confident that he possessed the mental fortitude to handle the rigors of minor league life and the developmental process. And that year, he performed adequately. He hit .258/.359/.352 (108 wRC+) at Low-A Charleston with excellent defense. For a raw high school player, it was a good start. But, of course, injury hit again. He underwent surgery on a torn left labrum and the expectations were not crushed, but certainly tempered further.
Even with his labrum surgery, many scouts still believed that his potential was pretty high. Baseball America rated him as the best defensive outfielder in the Yankees' system, and they also rated him as the 18th best prospect in the South Atlantic League. BP's Annual stated that he was still "quite raw", and he didn't have much of an opportunity to prove them wrong in 2011. He only played 53 games that season and hit .271/.342/.419 (110 wRC+) at Low-A Charleston, almost exactly the same as the year prior.
If there was a year that could have been the great turning point for his career, it was 2012. He had slipped from fourth to tenth on the Yankees' top prospects rankings on Baseball America, and BP once again noted that everyone was still waiting for his durability to appear. And that year, he became the top prospect that many of us were so excited about at one point. He still spent much of the season recovering from his labrum surgery, but he surged when he returned at the end of June. In 60 games for High-A Tampa he hit .307/.378/.470 (142 wRC+) with five home runs and 17 stolen bases, and it looked like the Slade Heathcott we were waiting for was appearing.
Expectations were sky-high going into 2013. Baseball America ranked him as the Yankees' second best prospect, the best outfield arm in the system, and the 63rd best prospect in baseball. BP's Annual called his speed and defense "special", and they felt that he was on his way to allowing his "five-tool potential to flourish". Marc Hulet of FanGraphs stated that Heathcott possessed great gap power, plus speed, but also an inconsistent approach at the plate. Nevertheless, the consensus was that his raw profile was finally starting to come to form, and he would really have the chance to solidify himself as a top prospect once he had a full season under his belt after recovering from his surgery.
Well, we know that didn't happen. He played 103 games with Double-A Trenton and hit .261/.327/.411 (104 wRC+), which is pretty disconcerting considering his hitting potential was supposed to be starting to shine through. He struck out about 24% of the time, and he only hit 8 home runs. To boot, he only stole 15 bases. It wasn't a failure of a season, but it also wasn't a step forward. The icing on the cake, though, was an issue he had with the patellar tendon in his knee; the injury would lead to surgery the following season. So much for durability.
Heathcott didn't have a 2014 season. He only played nine games as he was sidelined for almost the entirety of the season due to the small meniscus tear that led to his surgery. He slipped on just about every Yankees' prospect list, and I would imagine he falls off most of them as of now. Many still thought he was one of the most talented players in the minors, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.
The Yankees thought they could develop a truly dynamic star to spice up an outfield starved of young talent, and they just didn't get that. They hoped that he would overcome his own durability issues, and it just didn't happen. Heathcott's all-out approach on the field eventually doomed him as numerous injuries never gave him a chance to develop. And now we find ourselves looking at a once-top prospect as an organizational depth piece, and it's obviously sad. As we all know, prospects will break your heart.