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Heathcott overcoming struggles, AFL pitchers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Slade Heathcott has packed a lot of living into his 22-year-old body.

Not all of it has been good.

But things are starting to turn around for the player who was the New York Yankees' first-round pick (29th overall) in the First-Year Player Draft in 2009, and he appears to be headed in the right direction.

The most encouraging sign of late is the selection of the Scottsdale Scorpions outfielder as the Arizona Fall League's Player of the Week for Week 4. His Scottsdale teammate, Bobby Casseveh (Los Angeles Angels), has been named the AFL's Pitcher of the Week.

In two games last week, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Heathcott hit .667 with a league-leading three triples, 13 total bases, four extra-base hits, six RBIs and an OPS of 1.444.

Entering Monday's games, the left-handed hitter was hitting .295 overall with five runs, one double, three triples, nine RBIs and two stolen bases with a .415 on-base percentage and a .455 slugging percentage.

In 2012, he split time between the Rookie League Yankees of the Gulf Coast League (on injury rehab for five games) and New York's Class A Advanced affiliate in Tampa with a combined .302 average, five home runs and 29 RBIs. In four Minor League seasons, he has hit .275 with 12 homers and 76 RBIs.

The Yankees have placed Heathcott in the AFL for a reason. He has the potential to play in the Major Leagues, by 2014, according to some estimates. He is listed by as the No. 5 prospect in the organization.

Yet he is the first to acknowledge, "I have a lot of work to do."

He was a two-sport star in baseball and football in high school in the Texarkana, Texas area, but family difficulties and alcohol issues caused him to spiral out of control. The Yankees helped him rid himself of some of those burdens.

Heathcott also accepted Jesus Christ into his life in 2010 and that has been a big steadying influence, but he admits, "I'm still rough around the edges."

As for his alcohol abuse, he said, "I have had a great accountability group, a lot of support.

"I started praying every day. I thought it was selfish at first, praying for success, but it's all about understanding Him and Him you. If He puts me in a position to hit, wants me to do that, it will happen. I figure there is a reason why I am here."

Heathcott also has had to overcome injuries. He has had two separate surgeries on his left (throwing) shoulder. The second surgery slowed him considerably at the start of the 2012 season.

His hitting approach is a work in progress.

"I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my swing," Heathcott said. "If you see me in [batting practice], you would think I'm nothing but a pull hitter. But I think I can go to other parts of the field. I think I have some power, maybe 15-20 home runs, go for the extra bases."

Scottsdale Manager Carlos Mendoza has worked with Heathcott in the Yankees' system. This fall, he has put Heathcott in various spots throughout the batting order. Heathcott also has been working with hitting coach Phil Clark of the Cleveland Indians.

"He has been playing pretty well. He has been swinging the bat well," Mendoza said. "He has been more patient, waiting for his pitch to hit, and putting a good swing on it. Overall, I would say he is a lot more mature both on and off the field."

Heathcott has played mainly in center field during his Minor League seasons, but he also has played some right field in the AFL.

"We have a lot of outfielders we want to take a look at. We still want to get him his time, so we have put him out in right field. The experience will help him," Mendoza said.

Does Heathcott ever think about the enormity of it all, being drafted by the highest-profile team in the Major Leagues and trying to succeed in that environment?

"The fact that I was drafted at all was big enough, a blessing in itself, but I was drafted by the team that people put the most attention on," Heathcott said. "Knowing Christ has changed my views. I wake up in the morning and realize how blessed I am to be able to take BP, just to go out and play baseball. The days can get pretty long, but it's worth it."

Slade Heathcott