HEATHCOTT OVERCOMES OBSTACLES TO BECOME BOMBERS' TOP PICK
July 5, 2009
AFTER the Yankees selected outfielder Slade Heathcott with the No. 29 pick in last month's First-Year Player Draft, they brought him to New York to show him what they hope is his future home.
The Texarkana, Texas native looked like just another member of the team during batting practice, as he stretched and shagged fly balls in full Yankees practice gear. But when he stepped into the left-hand batter's box, it became clear why the organization is excited about him. Heathcott deposited several balls deep into the right-field seats.
But in the period leading up to the draft, there was little question of Heathcott's talent. If that was the only factor in determining his draft position, there's a good chance he wouldn't have been on the board when the Yankees chose to take him.
MAJOR TALENT: The Yankees selected outfielder Slade Heathcott,
who starred for Texarkana's Texas High for two seasons, with the
No. 29 pick in last month's First-Year Player Draft.
Heathcott has spent the past two years starring for Texarkana's Texas High without either of his parents involved in his day-to-day life. His father has been in and out of jail, while his mother and brother live roughly 200 miles away in Alexandria, La. During that time Heathcott has lived with friends, as well as his grandparents.
"Both of my parents haven't been around for two years, and in the past that projects somebody to have more trouble," Heathcott said. "That's not my case. It's never affected me in anything I do. I just go out and play baseball, and that's what I like to do."
Heathcott's home life, combined with an academic suspension for a game during the season, left many in baseball questioning his makeup, which likely scared away teams on draft day. His potential college coach, LSU's Paul Mainieri, has no such concerns.
"All I can tell you is that I think the world of the kid," he said. "Every dealing that I've had with him, he's an upstanding, honest kid. He's had a tough upbringing, but a lot of people in this country have had tough upbringings. I think he's a good kid."
"There are kids out there that couldn't go across the street without their momma at his age, but you could throw Slade out in the desert and he'd find a way to survive," said his high school coach, Texas High's Glenn Welch. "I don't know if you'd call it 'street smart', but he's a kid who could get by. . . . The kid can take care of himself."
That toughness helped Welch decide to give the ball to Heathcott -- who had not pitched an inning all year -- for the seventh inning with a one-run lead in the state championship game. Heathcott threw a scoreless inning, and Texas High won its first state title.
"Anybody who knows Slade knows he thrives off situations like that," Welch said. "A lot of people dropped their jaws when he trotted out there, but I had no problem with it. He was throwing some gas, too.
"The sucker not only has a strong arm, but it's accurate. It's unbelievable how accurate he is."
Putting together the roster for his Dallas-based summer league team, the D-Bats, last summer, Cade Griffis had one spot left when he received a call from a friend.
"A buddy of mine called me and said there's this kid in Texarkana," Griffis said. "He told me, 'You have to take a shot on this kid.' "
Heathcott spent the summer with the D-Bats playing for former Rangers outfielder and lifetime .305 hitter Rusty Greer. When asked whom he could compare himself with, Heathcott didn't hesitate to say Greer.
"Just because he went 100 percent the whole time and put his body and everything on the line for the team," Heathcott said. "That's what I hope to do and accomplish."
Though Greer laughed at the comparison ("he's a whole lot better than I was"), it took him some time to get used to handling Heathcott's boundless energy and enthusiasm.
"My initial reaction was 'wow,' " Greer said. "The tools he brought to the field were special tools, but he also was such a high-energy guy. I had
never coached a guy like that, and I had to figure out how to channel some of that energy onto the field."
Heathcott may have been a bundle of energy when he wasn't on the field, but it didn't overshadow his talent. After spending the summer together, Greer was left impressed.
"Well, I think for him the sky is the limit," he said. "At that age, he is the closest thing I've been to that has five tools. . . . I know you hear that used a lot, but he's really got what it takes.
"At 18 years old, half the battle is keeping their head on straight. If he does that, and the guys around him and his coaches help him to do that, I think the fans in Yankee Stadium will love him."
As for Heathcott, he said whether he heads to college in the fall or starts his pro career, he cannot go wrong either way.
"I've told scouts the whole time I've been really lucky," he said. "I can either go to the best baseball school in America or the best baseball franchise in history. I hope something gets worked out soon so I can get playing."
The Yankees likely hope so, as well. After taking a chance on a player some deemed not worth the risk, the Bombers are hoping Slade Heathcott will turn into a home run.