Slade Heathcott, the Yankees first-round draft pick in 2009, was off to a strong start to 2011. He put up a sizzling .370/.453/.630 line in April in his return to low-A Charleston, and continued to be productive throughout the first half of May. Then came the May 13 fracas against the Greenville Drive. Heathcott was hit by a pitch and instead of charging the mound, turned around and pushed over the opposing catcher. This incited a bench-clearing brawl, and eventually resulted in a 5-game suspension for the talented 20 year-old.
In the 12 games since the suspension, Heathcott has looked like a different player, going just 10 for 53 (.189) with only two extra-base hits, and just 4 walks against a whopping 18 strikeouts. Of course, this is a relatively small sample, and baseball is a game of streaks, but the timing of Heathcott’s struggles is interesting. Amateur psychologists would certainly point to Heathcott’s troubled past, and insist that his recent difficulties at the plate are a result of psychological troubles impeding his performance.
Personally, I’m a little concerned about the possibility of Slade sustaining a minor injury in the brawl (he ended up at the bottom of a pile, and got headlocked and kicked among other things) and not telling anybody, and this injury is holding him back. Heathcott strikes me as a tough guy who would not necessarily be eager to admit getting hurt (especially in a brawl that he played a role in starting), so I hope he’s not hiding anything.
Most likely, the extended time off simply threw Heathcott out of his groove, and it may take him a little time to feel comfortable at the plate. It may be premature to be worried about a small sample of horrendous play, but given Heathcott’s past, and the circumstances of his suspension, I think a little closer scrutiny may be warranted. I’m hoping that Heathcott will be able to elevate his play like he did at the beginning of the season, and get back to being the productive extra-base machine that tantalized everyone at the beginning of the season. The talent is definitely there, but here’s hoping the head doesn’t get in the way.
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