Slade Heathcott’s Long and Winding Road to the Majors

sladeAs you likely know by now, Slade Heathcott made his major league debut Wednesday night when he pinch ran for Mark Teixeira in the eighth and then played center. This is not just notable because arguably the Yankees’ most important offensive piece, Jacoby Ellsbury, hit the DL, causing the Yankees to call up their first round pick from the 2009 Draft. Hopefully, Heathcott gets an opportunity to pick up his first hit sometime soon, but as we wait for that I thought I’d look back on Heathcott’s long road to the Bronx.

If you have followed the Yankees’ farm system at all the last five or six years, you know the name Slade Heathcott and why I am so excited to see him finally break into the majors. Granted, his stay may be a short one for any number of reasons, but considering how miniscule the percentage of minor league players to ever make an appearance in the majors is, this is no small feat. One that, after initially appearing like almost a sure bet, seemed more and more certain to never occur.

Almost exactly four years ago, the full story of Heathcott’s background started to break, only to be followed up with him getting plunked and then ejected from a game after kicking off a benches clearing brawl. I posted about that incident and the ways in which Slade was drawing comparisons with Josh Hamilton, writing, “Hopefully, this story will continue towards a feel-good ending, much like Hamilton’s seems to.” Okay, so the latter part of this statement may be far more questionable, but it is really great to see that Heathcott’s story has continued to be an inspirational one.

Zachary Slade Heathcott was born on September 28, 1990 in Texarkana, Texas. Heathcott did not have an easy time growing up. Born to a teenaged mother, he was eventually adopted by the man she later married. While they stayed married for seventeen years, it was clearly a tumultuous relationship. When Heathcott was in high school his father spent time in prison and eventually his parents divorced and his mother moved to Louisiana. During this time, Heathcott turned to alcohol, got a DUI, once ended up with a shotgun pointed at his father and broke into a house while drunk. At times during high school, Heathcott stayed on friends’ couches or in lived out of his truck.

Despite his chaotic and unstable surroundings, Heathcott continued to excel athletically, garnering just as much attention for his skills on the gridiron as for those on the diamond. Many teams passed on Heathcott, due to his “questionable character” and upbringing, but the Yankees took a chance. At first, it looked like they were going to lose that gamble, as Heathcott’s professional career beginnings quickly exposed his alcohol problem. The Yankees dragged him to Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as a mentor, and soon Heathcott seemed to have turned things around. While there are plenty rough stories about Heathcott’s high school years, there were plenty of good stories that shed light on the person and player he could be.

With the character issues seemingly dealt with, Heathcott seemed primed for a quick assent to the Bronx. Unfortunately, that is when the injuries struck. He has steadily progressed through the Yankees’ farm system, but out of five potentially full seasons he could of played, Heathcott only played in more than 100 games once, when he played 103 in 2013. He followed that by playing in just nine games in 2014. Despite the injuries, Heathcott has a career minors line of .270/.345/.398, but it was beginning to really look like bad luck would end up keeping him from realizing his dream.

This is why it was so exciting to see him show up healthy and ready to play this spring. While Heathcott seemed like a sure thing, given his natural talent on the baseball field, he had many more hurdles to overcome than simply the Sally League, Florida State League, Eastern League and International League. I must admit, I had definitely reached the point where I didn’t think this day would ever come for Heathcott, but now that it is here – I really hope this is just the beginning of an incredible story. Continue reading Slade Heathcott’s Long and Winding Road to the Majors

Checking in with Rob Refsnyder, IL Batter of the Week

refsnyderRob Refsnyder had made a name for himself well before the Yankees took him in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft. After being drafted, Refsnyder went on to win Most Outstanding Player honors with Arizona at the College World Series. Having capped off his collegiate career on top, Refsnyder signed with the Yankees and quickly began his professional pursuit. The young second baseman hasn’t stopped picking up some hardware as he journeys towards the Bronx, with his most recent honors coming on Monday, when he was named the IL Batter of the Week.

In truth, Refsnyder’s recognition for last week was well-deserved, but doesn’t come close to telling the full story. Between May 11 and May 17, Refsnyder hit .400, with six extra-base hits (two homers and four doubles) and six RBIs. After Tuesday’s game against Charlotte, however, Refsnyder is riding a ten-game hit streak and has made it on base in every game since the second game of a doubleheader against Pawtucket on April 25 (21 games). Something seems to have changed as of April 25 for Refsnyder, whose average dropped below .200 for the first time after Game 1. Since that point, Refsnyder has taken his line from .193/.233/.228 to .312/.378/.440 in large part due to the fact that he is hitting .383/.471/.583 in the month of May. Continue reading Checking in with Rob Refsnyder, IL Batter of the Week

Prospect Profile: Jacob Lindgren

jlindgrenJacob Stephen Lindgren
Born: March 12, 1993, Biloxi, Mississippi
Height: 5’11
Weight: 205
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Position: Relief Pitcher

Even though it has been a couple years since I consistently wrote prospect profiles, by and large the players on the upper level rosters are very familiar to me. Jacob Lindgren, a relief pitcher with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, would be one of the big exceptions. Having been drafted out of Mississippi State by the Yankees in 2014, Lindgren has shot through the Yankees’ farm system and appears to be on the cusp of making his major league debut.

Lindgren was picked by the Yankees with their first pick of the 2014 draft, however, he was taken in the second round, as the 55th overall pick. The southpaw began as a starter in college, taking Mississippi State to the College World Series, and then in 2014 he started coming out of the bullpen. Quickly becoming one of the most dominant relievers in college baseball, Lindgren didn’t slow down after signing with the Yankees, making appearances with four Yankees minor league affiliates last year. Continue reading Prospect Profile: Jacob Lindgren

Prospect Who’s Hot: April

[caption id="attachment_74727" align="aligncenter" width="560"]flores I see ya there, Ramon! Courtesy of MiLB.com[/caption]

After a brutally cold winter this year, it appears as though spring has finally made its way to the northeast, which must mean we have made it through the first month of baseball! I think many of us entered this season wondering what kind of year it would be for the Yankees and their affiliates, but so far 2015 seems to be off to a good start. This seemed like a good chance to look back on April and see which prospects are starting hot!

Chase Whitley (Scranton): Whitley started the season in Scranton and put up some strong performances. Now, he is holding his own in the Bronx with two strong showings under his belt during the absence of Tanaka. Before his call up, Whitley was 2-0 in three starts with a 2.12 ERA, thirteen strikeouts and only six walks.

Slade Heathcott (Scranton): After being sidelined by injuries quite a bit during his professional career, Heathcott made quite the impression during Spring Training and he hasn’t let up any. In the month of April, he hit .329/.386/.443. He a homer, a triple and pair of doubles, along with eleven RBIs and eight walks. Strikeouts were a problem, as he had fifteen. It is also worth noting that Heathcott is showing no signs of slowing down.

Ramon Flores (Scranton): Flores has also been a major part of the RailRiders’ offense this season. He hit .303/.378/.576 in April – oh yeah, and he hit for the cycle in the very first game of the season. Flores  knocked four homers and doubles last month, driving in ten runs for Scranton. The outfielder seems to thrive under pressure, hitting .391 when there are two outs as opposed to .188 with no outs. Continue reading Prospect Who’s Hot: April

The Farm Report: May 4

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:
The RailRiders had a tougher week this past week, going 3-4. They avoided the three-game sweep by Gwinett, before splitting a four game series with Charlotte. They now own a 12-13 record and remain 3.5 games behind Buffalo.

The big news out of Scranton has been Jose Pirela, who continues to rehab in Scranton. In his four games with the RailRiders this week, Pirela went 11-19 (.579) with four doubles, a homer, four RBIs and a walk. He is hitting .364/.400/.606 over eight minor league starts spread between Tampa, Trenton and Scranton. Ben Gamel continues to swing a hot bat (.368/.427/.574), but Slade Heathcott had a slow week hitting just .250. Continue reading The Farm Report: May 4

The Farm Report: April 27

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:
The RailRiders went 4-3 this week, putting them at 9-9 over all, and 3.5 games behind Buffalo in the IL North Division. They took two out of three from Lehigh Valley before splitting a four game set against Pawtucket. The RailRiders currently lead the IL in triples with seven.

Chase Whitley continues to impress, throwing six innings against Lehigh Valley on Wednesday, giving up one run on six hits, no walks and two Ks. He owns a 2.12 ERA right now, with opposing hitters batting just .210 off him. Whitley has struck out thirteen in three games, while walking just six. Jacob Lindgren made two appearances this week, each for 0.2 innings. He allowed only one hit, two walks and struck out three. He owns a 2.98 ERA over seven games and has opposing hitters batting just .206.

Tyler Austin had a tough week, going just 3-28 with one RBI. He took only one walk and struck out seven times. Heading into this week, Austin had a batting average at .300, but now his slashline is .221/.239/.294. Slade Heathcott, however, continues to rake. He has hit .395 over his last ten games, including going 12-28 this past week. He is now hitting .333/.373/.449. Ramon Flores had at bats in three games this past week, going 2-6, 3-2 and 3-1. He is now hitting .296/.377/.611 with four homers, a triple, three doubles and eight RBIs. Continue reading The Farm Report: April 27

Prospect Profile: Jorge Mateo

Jorge_MateoIt’s been a while since I did a prospect profile, so I thought I’d start this year with Jorge Mateo, the Charleston RiverDogs’ shortstop. Now that he is playing his first full season of professional baseball, the young middle infielder is garnering a lot of attention, so let’s look at why.

Jorge Luis Mateo
Born: June 23, 1995
Height: 6’0
Weight: 188
Bats: Right
Throws: RightPosition: Shortstop

Mateo was signed by the Yankees for $250,000 in January of 2012. He started his career in the Dominican Leagues, appearing in 14 games in 2012 and then 64 in 2013. It has been evident from day one that speed is Mateo’s game, and he managed to swipe 49 bags in 2013, a number he looks sure to easily eclipse this season.

In 2014, Mateo made his first appearance stateside, hitting .276/.354/.397 over sixteen games in the Gulf Coast League, though he missed a good chunk of time due to a wrist injury. He had five doubles and a triple, stealing eleven bases and only getting caught once. Mateo is off to a strong start in Charleston, putting together a line of .300/.375/.380 over thirteen games. He has two doubles, a triple and eight RBIs, and leads professional baseball with fourteen stolen basses, getting caught three times.
Continue reading Prospect Profile: Jorge Mateo

The Farm Report: Opening Week!

For the 2015 season, I will be doing the Farm Report as a weekly post reviewing how the Yankees’ affiliates fared in the previous week. It may take some time to get a good feel for the best way to do this, so please bear with me. Feel free to let me know what is working and what isn’t and I’ll try to adjust it as best I can.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:
The RailRiders are off to a 2-2 start to 2015, however, their opening day game gave them a lot to live up to this year. Scranton beat Syracuse 8-3, but the story was Ramon Flores. The young outfielder started the day’s scoring with a homer in the first inning, and finished the day as the third Scranton player to ever hit for the cycle. He ended up going 4-4 with three runs scored, two RBIs and a walk. As a team, Scranton had 16 hits, assisted by Kyle Roller, who went 3-5, and Robert Refsnyder, who went 2-4 with a RBI, a walk and a run scored.

Scranton dropped the next two games, but came back to split the four-game series with a win on Sunday. The RailRiders had a chance to see a little more history, as Tyler Austin fell just a triple shy of the cycle. Chase Whitley took the mound and threw a very strong five innings, spreading out four hits and walking two. He struck out five and got the win. Austin went 3-4 with a run scored, a double, a homer and two RBIs.

With some interesting prospects and a lot of questions about the big league club, it is going to be a very interesting year for the RailRiders. Roller, Austin and Flores are all off to a strong start, but Slade Heathcott, who had an exciting spring, has been slow to heat up now that the games count. He is 3-14 with one RBI and four Ks. Nick Rumbelow is doing well in relief, allowing just one hit, one run and one walk over three innings. He has struck out four.

Trenton Thunder:
The Thunder had their Opening Day game postponed due to weather, but that didn’t slow down what is probably the most exciting lineup in the Yankees’ system right now. They beat the Erie SeaWolves 15-2 on Friday, thanks to fifteen hits and four errors on Erie. Everyone in the lineup got at least one hit and Jake Cave went 4-6 with two runs scored, a stolen base, a homer and two RBIs. Aaron Judge went 2-6 with three RBIs and a homer, while Dante Bichette and Cito Culver went 2-5, with Bichette going deep once.

Trenton showed that the offensive outburst wasn’t a fluke, when they beat Erie 9-3 on Saturday. Once again, the offense came from the whole lineup, with everyone getting a hit with the exception of Greg Bird. There was a lot of power, some of it from surprising places. Gary Sanchez had his first homer of the year, while Eric Jagielo clubbed two home runs. Cito Culver rounded it out with a three-run bomb of his own. The Thunder took their win streak to three, taking the first game of a doubleheader on Sunday, but Erie managed to pull off a 3-2 win over Trenton to split the day.

Tampa Yankees:
Tampa faced off against Lakeland to start off their 2015 campaign. They drew first blood, with Ericson Leonora scoring on a Danny Oh sac fly in the fifth. Angelo Gumbs singled in Matt Snyder to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the top of the sixth. Lakeland put together a bit of a rally in the bottom of the eighth, but the Yankees held them to one run and took the 2-1 win.

After four games, the Yankees are 2-2, having alternated victories. Snyder is off to a strong start, going 5-11 in four games with a homer, three walks, four RBIs and two Ks. Miguel Andujar has gone 6-16 with three doubles and two RBIs. On the mound, Rookie Davis put in a good showing, allowing just one run on three hits over six innings. He did not issue a walk and struck out five. Jonathan Holder picked up a win, throwing six scoreless innings and allowing just three hits and striking out four, while Brady Lail has already notched up nine Ks in just five innings this season. He has scattered four hits.

Charleston RiverDogs:
The RiverDogs got off to a slow start, dropping their first two games of the season, but they rebounded and managed to split the four-game series with Lexington. Justin Kamplain threw six strong innings on Saturday, allowing just two hits and a walk, while striking out six. Joey Maher and Cale Coshow combined to keep the Legends scoreless over the last three innings and Charleston took the 2-0 win. They extended their win streak on Sunday, when they beat the Legends 4-2. Abiatal Avelino went 2-3 with a double, two runs scored, a walk, a RBI and three stolen bases. Jorge Mateo went 2-4 with a RBI and a run scored, picking up four stolen bases.

Chris Breen and Austin Aune have both started the season going 4-13. Breen has a double and two RBIs, while Aune has a triple. They have both struck out seven times. Avelino is 4-15 with three runs scored, three doubles, a RBI and six stolen bases. Jordan Montgomery appears to have the pitching performance of the week, going 5.2 innings and allowing just one unearned run on five hits and a walk. He struck out nine batters in that outing.
Continue reading The Farm Report: Opening Week!

2015 Minor League Preview

Though there is still snow that hasn’t quite melted away outside my window, like many of you, nothing says spring more to me than the start of baseball season. The Yankees got their first game of 2015 under their belt yesterday, and by the end of the week the Minor Leagues will have begun as well. With that in mind, here is a quick reminder of how the minor league affiliates ended last season, along with some of the prospects to watch.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:
Last Year: For the second season in a row, the RailRiders ended with a lackluster 68-76 record. Despite this disappointing record, there were some positive signs, not the least of which was their offense. The RailRiders had the best team batting average in the International League and they owned team slash line of .273/.337/.413. Pitching was less successful for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, with their numbers putting them squarely in the middle of the pack.

Prospects to Watch: There are a few familiar faces in Scranton this season, including some intriguing prospects who should get a chance in the Bronx at some point. Slade Heathcott, the former first round draft pick for the Yankees whose journey to the majors has been curtailed by various injuries, appears to be healthy and made a lot of noise in the big league club’s Spring Training. Robert Refsnyder has continued his quick ascension through the farm system. There is no doubt he can hit, but he will need to resume his work on defense if he is going to become an everyday second baseman in the majors. Top prospects like Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores will also start the season with the RailRiders. On the mound, Scranton will see familiar hurlers like Chase Whitley, Matt Tracy, Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez.

Trenton Thunder:
Last Year: Much like their Triple-A counterparts, Trenton had a disappointing 2014 campaign, ending 67-75. Unlike Scranton, however, it was Trenton’s pitching that was their strong point, while their offense was mediocre. As a team, the Thunder had a 3.84 ERA and had the second-most Ks in the league with 1093. Their .256/.323/.385 slash line put them right in the middle of the Eastern League, while their 75 stolen bases were the second-least in the EL. Luckily, Trenton is poised to have a very different season, featuring some of the most exciting prospects in the Yankees’ system.

Prospects to Watch: Honestly, there are plenty of players to choose from in Trenton this year. Top catching prospect, Gary Sanchez, will return to Trenton to continue his work. He put together a solid season with Trenton last year, but his defense is still a major concern. Prospects such as Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Jacob Lindren and Luis Severino promise to make Trenton a team to watch in the EL this season. Meanwhile, players like Mason Williams, Dante Bichette, Jr. and Cito Culver, who have struggled quite a bit the last few seasons, will also be taking their swings in Trenton. Also returning to the Thunder is Mark Montgomery. He looked like he was going to fly through the minors in his first couple seasons, but he was slowed down by injury.

Tampa Yankees:
Last Year: The Yankees managed to put together a winning season, going 71-68. As their record dictates, the Yankees were fairly unexceptional in 2014, despite some exciting performances by Judge, Bird and Severino. Tampa pitchers managed to combine to throw 1089 Ks, which was the second most in the league, along with holding opposing batters to just 52 homers, the least in the Florida State League. Otherwise, their pitching stats primarily put them in the middle of the pack. On offense, Tampa put together a line of .256/.325/.377 and struck out a league-leading 1154 times. They also weren’t too much of a threat on the bases, swiping just 70 bases for the second-lowest total in the FSL. Power was the key to the Yankees’ offense, as they smashed 87 homers, second only to Clearwater’s 91.

Prospects to Watch: Honestly, so far there aren’t many prospects that have me particularly excited for Tampa this season. Ian Clarkin, the pitcher the Yankees took in the first round of the 2013 draft, had a strong start to 2014 in Charleston and threw a strong five innings for Tampa. He is easily the most intriguing active prospect on the Tampa roster now. Domingo German would have joined him on the mound, but it looks like he will be having Tommy John surgery instead. Rookie Davis, Gabe Encinas and Brady Lail will all be on the mound for Tampa at some point this year, while Miguel Andujar, Angelo Gumbs, Mike Ford and Tyler Wade will be trying to provide the offense.

Charleston RiverDogs:
Last Year: The RiverDogs went 71-69, just barely managing a winning record. They had some impressive performances on both sides of the field. Charleston’s batting statistics were rather average, but there were some good signs. Considering the lack of speed in Tampa last year, Charleston’s 159 stolen bases (good for third in the Sally League) was one of their highlights. They also managed to draw an impressive 511 walks, which was also the third most in the SAL. Pitching, however, seemed to be the RiverDogs’ strength. They had a team ERA of 3.66 and managed to put together eleven shut-outs. Their 1140 Ks were second only to Greensboro, while keeping their walks to a respectable 427. Charleston also didn’t allow too many long balls, as opposing hitters only connected with 65 homers.

Prospects to Watch: This is a pretty young looking crew with a lot of question marks, as usual when you are looking at Low-A ball. The most intriguing player that will see time in Charleston is Jorge Mateo, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic. The young prospect is only 19 and has garnered a lot of attention ever since making his US debut last season. Abiatal Avelino will get his first taste of full season baseball, looking to build on the 53 games he spent in Charleston in 2014. Domingo Acevedo, Tyler Wade and Gosuke Katoh will also be in Charleston this year. Continue reading 2015 Minor League Preview