KANSAS CITY -- Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his staff always have been on the lookout for speed and athleticism.
And that's what attracted them to 24-year-old Nick Heath, a left-handed-hitting burner, who was selected in the 16th round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of Northwestern State (La.). Heath can play all outfield positions, but he excels as a center fielder.
Heath has a .350 on-base percentage through three professional seasons and he has swiped 100 bags. After he dominated at Class A Advanced Wilmington (.397 on-base percentage, 29 steals) in 54 games last season, he was promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
MLB.com caught up with Heath in a recent phone interview:
MLB.com: Clearly you inherited your speed gene from your mother, Kimberly, who ran the 100-meter hurdles at the 1988 Olympic Trials (14.04 seconds) for Team USA. At what point in your life did you finally feel brave enough to race her?
Heath: "I was about 14 years old, my freshman year in high school. I used to go on these little two-mile jogs around the neighborhood. One day, she told me she wanted to join me. So, we get done with the two-mile jog and I'm just kind of cooling off about a block from our house. So I ask my mom, 'How far do you think we are from the house.' And she said, 'I don't know, maybe about 40-50 yards.' And I said, 'You want to race now?' And she said, 'I don't want to embarrass you.' And I said, 'You're not going to embarrass me.' So she said, 'Let's go.' She counted it off and we started running. After about five steps, she was a blur. [Laughing] I mean, I really had to make up the ground, but I beat her. And she said, 'That's the last time I'm ever going to race you.'"
MLB.com: Did you get grounded?
Heath: "[Laughs]. Nah. But she likes to say now that I just got lucky, that she wasn't prepared. But when she was racing back in the day, she was unbelievable. I hear so many people back home talk about how she ran in high school and college, and was just incredible. I learned so much from her. You can call me a mama's boy, but I owe her so much. She's the best."
MLB.com: You got some great experience and had some success in the Arizona Fall League (.339 average, 11 steals in 17 games). Were you working on anything specifically?
Heath: "I'm trying to be a little more aggressive at the plate, less timid. I'm trying not to be as selective as I have been in the past. I think right now, my biggest thing is attacking the fastball early in the count when I know guys aren't going to try to slip me anything. Just learning what pitchers do, how defenses play me. It's all helping."
MLB.com: You also got your first taste of Double-A this season. Tell us about that:
Heath: "When I first got there, I was kind of tearing it up. I wanted to show those guys what I was capable of, that I belonged there, that I can play with them. It opened my eyes to what I'm capable of doing. It gave me more confidence, a little more swagger at the plate. I'm anxious for 2019."
MLB.com: You have some Kansas ties, spent time in Junction City, right?
Heath: "I did, but I grew up in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. I was born in Decatur, Georgia. I think we moved to Kansas when I was about eight or nine. My mom moved to Kansas and we lived with my grandparents for a little while."
MLB.com: Were you a Royals fan once you got to Kansas?
Heath: "No, I was definitely a Braves fan. I remember watching the games with my dad [Harvey] as a kid. My big thing was watching Andruw Jones. I loved watching him. My dad would always say, 'Watch him. Watch how he plays.' Andruw Jones was absolutely amazing. Growing up, I watched a lot of him and a lot of Chipper [Jones]. When I got a little older, I watched a lot of [Jeff] Francoeur. It was awesome watching all those guys."
MLB.com: Did you go to any games at Kauffman Stadium?
Heath: "No, I actually didn't go to my first Royals game until after they drafted me. But you know, I was just a huge Atlanta fan. I loved the Falcons, I loved the Braves, I loved the Hawks, even though they haven't been good for a while."
MLB.com: Any players in today's game you model yourself after?
Heath: "Well, that's a funny story. Someone asked me that a couple of weeks ago, and the first name that came to mind was Kevin Pillar. And then the next name was Kevin Kiermaier. But like the day after that conversation, our manager talked to us in the clubhouse and said there was going to be a Major Leaguer playing with us today [in the AFL], so just treat him like the rest of us and don't overwhelm him with questions. I didn't think much of it at the time. So, we all go out to the outfield before the game and I kind of have my head down, and I see a guy out there and I introduce myself, and he says his name is Kevin. I said, 'Kevin what?' And he was like, 'Pillar.' And I thought, 'You got to be kidding me. You got to be joking.' He was there just getting loose before he went on that tour in Japan. Of course, all I did was try to pick his brain and ask him a million questions. He was really nice.
"Hitting hasn't really been my strong point so I've always taken a lot of pride with my defense. So it was unbelievable that I got to practice with him, shag with him. I just kept asking questions and then I said, 'Am I annoying you?' And he said I wasn't."
MLB.com: You mentioned your hitting. What will be the key moving forward?
Heath: "I think what they want me to do the most is just use my speed. Get on base, cause havoc, create a lot of distress. Whether it's walking or bunting, or hitting through the shift, whatever. Just get on base and use that speed."