RICHMOND, Va.—Slade Heathcott's days as a top prospect are long past. While some may have written him off as a bust, however, the Yankees 2009 first-rounder is still plugging away in the minors in hopes of a big league career.
Heathcott, 26, is playing center field and leading off for Double-A Richmond in the Giants organization. He went 3-for-5 with a double, a home run and five RBIs on Tuesday night to pace a 14-6 victory over Altoona (Pirates).
The Texarkana, Texas, native is hitting .290 with six doubles, four homers and an .830 OPS in 26 games with the Flying Squirrels after signing a minor league deal with the Giants in February.
"(The Giants) have a good track record of not caring where their players come from, but when guys are producing moving them up," Heathcott said. "Ultimately I just needed an opportunity to play again and have fun and take advantage of that opportunity."
The Yankees drafted Heathcott 29th overall in 2009, but injuries and alcohol abuse overshadowed his talent and derailed the early part of his career. He finally reached the majors in 2015 after six drama-filled minor league seasons, appearing in 17 games for the Yankees and hitting a memorable game-winning home run against the Rays in September during the pennant race. But just eight months later, in May 2016, the Yankees released Heathcott from their Triple-A affiliate.
"I think it's one of those things that needed to happen honestly," Heathcott said. "There was just a lot of bad blood there and things like that. It was kind of nice to get away and get a fresh start. Now it's just whether you produce or not, and that's the way I like it."
Heathcott played 41 games in the White Sox system to finish out 2016 and elected free agency when the season ended. He signed with the Giants in the spring knowing he might have to start back in Double-A, a level he hadn't played since 2014.
Already, he is showing the level may be below him.
"The physical tools are still there," Richmond manager Kyle Haines said. "He's had a lot of growth on and off the field. He's had some injuries and now we're starting to see where he can play everyday and put those tools to use. Him being here and playing hard each and everyday, the energy he brings to the team is unmatched by anyone. He has a passion for the game you wish everybody had."
Heathcott might never be the everyday standout imagined when he was first drafted, but he's happy, healthy and producing, and that is as good a place as he can be.
"I just wanted the chance to play and prove that I can still play this game, because I know I can," Heathcott said. "I feel great. I feel great every single day."
NEWS AND NOTES
Richmond lefthander Andrew Suarez, the Giants’ No. 5 prospect, pitched six innings, gave up 10 hits and four runs, walked one and struck out three to earn the win. Suarez primarily utilized a 90-91 mph fastball and 84-86 mph slider and mixed in a 78-80 mph changeup he struggled to throw for strikes and a rare 76-77 mph curveball. Suarez held his velocity and threw strikes but got too much of the plate at times, resulting in multiple hard liners by righthanded batters.
Altoona shortstop Kevin Newman, the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect, went 2-for-5 with an RBI triple and a run scored. He lined the ball hard in four of his five plate appearances, and got around the bases in 11.4 seconds on his triple down the right-field line in the seventh.
Giants No. 14 prospect Rodolfo Martinez pitched the ninth for Richmond and sat 94-95 mph and touched 98 with his fastball. He also showed a slider and changeup that were largely ineffective. It was just Martinez's second outing of the year after he missed the first month of the season with a scapula injury.
Giants No. 15 prospect C.J. Hinojosa went 1-for-5 with three RBIs in his second game back after missing the first month of the season with a quad strain. Hinojosa lined a two-run single in the seventh for his only hit and made a spectacular diving stop to his right playing third base. He replaced a rehabbing Brandon Crawford at shortstop the final two innings.
Pirates No. 21 prospect Kevin Kramer went 2-for-4 and drilled a two-run double high off the right-field wall in the third. The 23-year-old second baseman is hitting .385 with a 1.112 OPS on the year.