In a perfect world, 24-year-old Slade Heathcott might be patrolling an outfield spot for the New York Yankees. He has outstanding speed, a plus arm, even after two shoulder surgeries, and a gritty playing style and power potential.
All would serve the Yankees well, except, needing to clear space on their 40-man roster, they non-tendered their 2009 first-round draft pick this past Tuesday. As of today, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Heathcott is a free-agent.
This is just the latest of setbacks for Heathcott, who has gotten his life back together thanks to religion and his marriage to Jessica Baumann in Tampa this past January. Since entering the Yankees system in 2009, he has had two shoulder surgeries and two knee surgeries, the second of which limited him to nine games at Double-A Trenton in 2014.
He is also a recovering alcoholic and also battled patellar tendinitis a few springs ago.
All this, however, pales when compared to his upbringing in Texarkana, Texas, where, at Texas High, he was a multi-sport star despite living in his truck for much of his senior year.
Slade, whose actual first name in Zachary, was born to a mom who was still in high school. She never had a real relationship with his father. In later years, he would point a shotgun at him after an argument. He had a DUI issue in high school and, after signing with the Yankees, was placed in Alcoholics Anonymous by former Yankees pitcher Sam Marsonek, who helped him turn around his personal life.
We got to know Heathcott in 2013, when he showed flashes of brilliance in playing 103 games in Trenton, batting .261 (104-444) with 22 doubles, seven triples, eight home runs and 49 RBIs. He also had seven assists. His swing, from the left side, was powerful. His plate approach wasn’t always with 36 walks and 107 strikeouts.
He played with an an all-out style, banging into whatever wall was near to make a catch. That style has caused some of the injuries and limited him to 309 minor-league games in six seasons.’
Yet, he seemed on the right track personally.
“I really feel all the bad stuff us behind me,” Heathcott said at the time. “I just want to concentrate on my game, get better and help this team win. I put my faith in the Lord and that has helped me.”
Heathcott, once he gets to know you and trust you, is an honest and captivating interview. When he first is introduced to you, he often answers questions with “Yes, sir.” or “What can I help you with, sir.” It took him a little while to open up and get comfortable with the media in Trenton in 2013.
There were times where he didn’t realize what outstanding abilities he has. After manufacturing the winning run for the Thunder in an Eastern League game in 2013 by himself with an infield single and two stolen bases followed by a sacrifice fly, he seemed to downplay his accomplishment.
“I feel good that our opponent credited me,” Heathcott said. “The more important thing about tonight to me is this is a step in getting better, making my game better.”
Heathcott now has a decision to make. Does he re-sign with the Yankees on a minor-league contract? If so, he would likely go to Triple-A Scranton to start. The Yankees, with Tyler Dugas, Jake Cave, Ramon Flores, Mason Williams, Aaron Judge and even Ben Gamel have a glut of outfielders in the upper minors. None, however, with the exception of Judge, has the power potential of Heathcott. There certainly are some in the organization hoping this is the outcome.
Or does he try one of the other 29 teams, start over and aim to succeed there?
Either way, he has a career worth salvaging.