7:46pm: Jennings reports in a full column that the Yankees are not planning on attempting to re-sign Heathcott this time around. He’ll look to latch on with a new organization.
7:41pm: The Yankees announced today (via Twitter) that they’ve released former outfielder and top prospect Slade Heathcott in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for left-hander Richard Bleier, whose contract was selected earlier today. As Chad Jennings of the Journal News points out (Twitter link), the Yankees likely felt that designating Heathcott would’ve led to a waiver claim by another team, so releasing him gives the Yanks a chance to re-sign him on a new minor league contract.
Heathcott, 25, was the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft and rated as the game’s No. 63 overall prospect (No. 2 in the Yankees’ system) heading into the 2013 season, according to Baseball America. Just 21 years old at the time, he earned those rankings on the heels of a .302/.380/.461 season at Class-A Advanced. However, his production at Double-A in 2013 failed to mirror those numbers, and he wound up missing the majority of 2014 due to injuries (which have been a recurring theme for Heathcott throughout his minor league career). This past offseason, BA rated him as the team’s No. 18 prospect, praising him as an above-average defender in center field with an above-average arm and the ability to hit to all fields. Despite that quality review, though, Heathcott hasn’t performed at the Triple-A level to date, batting just .257/.303/.334 in 368 plate appearances there (including a .230/.271/.310 line there in 97 PAs this season). He did perform well in a small sample of 30 Major League PAs last year, collecting 10 hits (including two homers and two doubles) in 25 at-bats.
Nonetheless, that package of plus defense and a solid approach at the plate could indeed pique the interest of other organizations, though it’s worth noting that the Yankees have previously non-tendered and re-signed Heathcott to a minor league contract back in 2014. Whether that’s the case again remains to be seen, but the Yankees do have a fairly crowded outfield mix. Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Aaron Hicks are all options at the big league level, while slugging right fielder Aaron Judge looms at the Triple-A level.