Lost in yesterday's interview with Mike Francesa, Brian Cashman spoke meticulously about the the situation in left field. Unlike "accidentally" blurting out that the team offered Robinson Cano an extension, Cashman gave us a good long rundown of the outfield options. Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, and a number of other young guys are in consideration before the team looks outside of the organization. But towards the end of the interview, Cashman could not stop raving about Slade Heathcott. He called Heathcott a dark horse candidate. After talking up his tools and the way he plays the game, Cashman referred to 2005, when the Yankees called up the 20 year old Melky Cabrera from Double-A. In comparing Heathcott to Cabrera, he said that Melky had some additional experience at the time, but Heathcott's tools are far better.
Melky Cabrera was certainly called up early in his career, but in July of 2005, Cabrera already had a handful of plate appearances in both Double-A and Triple-A. Heathcott's highest level of play is High-A, where he has a combined 248 plate appearances. But unless Cashman misspoke, the General Manager implied that there is a chance the team promotes the 22 year old Heathcott from Tampa to the Bronx.
While the left-hander has received some enormous praise in the recent months, there are a number of serious concerns. Last season, Heathcott struck out 27.2% of the time, or 66 times in 243 plate appearances. Though this is acceptable for a prospect, it's hard to imagine how this will translate when he sees the more impressive breaking pitches in the Major Leagues.
In the fall, Heathcott showed much better plate discipline, and took 14 strikeouts and 12 walks in 79 at bats. Altogether, he hit .388/.494/.612 in the Arizona Fall League, and flashed his impressive defense. Now he's ranked as Baseball America's 63rd best prospect in the game, and Brian Cashman made sure we knew that in yesterday's interview.
So maybe the Yankees have some anomaly on their hands, a guy that can skip Double-A and Triple-A and become the next
Melky Cabrera Dave Winfield. Chances are obviously against that.
I see two scenarios for talking up Heathcott, the first being that the Yankees love his defense and speed. The team wouldn't mind dealing with his strikeouts for a month if he can continue to steal runs in the outfield and as a pinch runner. While the stats indicate that his bat isn't ready for the Major Leagues, the outlook on his fielding is incredible. His range and his routes are supposed to be fantastic, and depending on how his arm heals, he could be plus in that category as well. The Yankees have attempted to create a strong outfield defense as it is, and they may believe that Heathcott is the best defensive outfielder ready for the majors.
In the other scenario, Cashman used the five minutes he talked about Heathcott, not to educate the fans, but to build up the outfielder's trade value. When Francesa asked about his makeup, Cashman dodged the question, and diminished the value of makeup, saying that Mark Melancon would be on an all-make up team, but still couldn't figure out how to pitch in New York or Boston. This is a huge change of pace for an organization that's gone out of their way to draft Cito Culver and Dante Bichette Jr based on make up as a defining factor. Maybe this indicates an ulterior motive, but maybe I'm reading into it too much.
But maybe Cashman really believes that he's ready for the majors, at least his defense. After all, philosophies change, people change, and this is no longer the Yankees of old. We have budgets now, we have a team built on defense and pitching, and maybe we should give Cashman credit for believing in a player that the team would normally write-off. Even so, promoting Heathcott with the idea that he's ready for the majors is an incredible stretch for even the Yankees. There are real risks with bringing a prospect up too soon, both mentally and physically. Unless we see him turn into Mike Trout this March, promoting him with such little experience isn't a change of sensibility, it's a loss of sensibility.