Scouting Notes: Heathcott Leads Yankees' Promising Hitting Prospects
In this edition of scouting notes, we'll take a look at their performances as well as the early spring performances of Andrew Brackman, Ivan Nova and Jesus Montero. While many of the young bats have performed well, it hasn't been all positive for the most notable Yankee farmhands. Brackman, for example, while looking solid, seems to be in the midst of adjusting to a new style of pitching.
Heathcott a Showstopper
There's little doubt that Heathcott is the player to watch in the lower rungs of the Yankees farm system this spring. He has looked superb in all facets of the game, but particularly at the plate. On top of his skills, Yankee fans are going to fall in love with the ferocity with which he plays the game.
The left-handed swinging Heathcott boasts plus bat speed, and he has extra quick hands through the zone. He's going to punish the fastball on his way up the ladder, but he still looks to be making adjustments on soft stuff on the outer half. There haven't been many fastballs getting by him on the inside part of the plate here in his first professional spring training, though.
The big question with toolsy players like Heathcott is how those tools will develop and what type of player he'll one day become. At this stage, he is looking more and more like a top-of-the-order-type hitter with gap-to-gap power. He does have excellent bat speed and a loud bat, but his swing is not built for a lot of lift. So, is he a 35-homer type bat? Probably not, but a high average and 20-homer production seems to be a reasonable expectation.
He has the pop to drive the ball to both gaps, and the plus speed -- especially going first to third -- to rack up doubles and triples. There's a lot to like about his swing mechanics as well. Without a lot of moving parts and with good hands, he's going to be able to make adjustments against better pitching as he moves up. Take those skills at the plate with his plus speed and outstanding range in the outfield, and Heathcott profiles a a plus defender in center field that could bat anywhere in the top three in the lineup depending on the development of his power.
He is a very complete player, especially considering his age. He's still far from the majors, but if the early returns are any indication, he looks like a far more complete and safe commodity at this early stage than past top high school position player picks made by the Yankees lately, like C.J. Henry. He has the mechanics and raw physical abilities to produce big offensively, and the speed and intensity to contribute in all aspects of the game.
• Will the explosive, upper-90-mph velocity of Andrew Brackman ever re-emerge? The Yankees hope so, but at least Brackman is making adjustments in the interim. Pitching at 88-90 mph with the fastball, and reaching 92 once in his most recent outing, Brackman's often suspect command was vastly improved. He was dealing with three pitches, locating his curveball consistently and staying aggressive down in the zone with the fastball. This wasn't the swing-and-miss, overpowering Brackman we expected, but his mechanics look much more comfortable and natural now as opposed to when I saw him in Charleston in 2009. By all indications, his command will be far better this year, but we'll have to see if the raw stuff returns.
• Ivan Nova's quality raw stuff isn't a secret to Yankee fans by now, but where he fits into the big-league picture isn't quite so clear. Nova has continued to show a good, sinking fastball at 90-92 mph, reaching 94 occasionally. He's going to need to continue working on his secondary pitches, but his breaking ball has looked a bit sharper so far this spring. Nova looks poised for a strong season at the Triple-A level.
• Until he's firmly entrenched in the big leagues, there will continue to be questions about Jesus Montero's ability behind the plate. I've said it before, but Montero still looks like he has enough ability to stick behind the dish. He's made some strong throws and has a good working relationship with his pitchers. Footwork, however, is definitely still an issue. He tends to open up on his throws to second, and he needs to improve on shifting to his backhand side to block pitches. Overall, though, his hands have looked soft, and the arm is strong enough to indicate he has the core skills to stick as a big-league catcher. He'll always need to put in extra work defensively, but the talent is there.
• Along with Heathcott, young hitters Corban Joseph and Abraham Almonte have showcased their offensive skills early this spring. Joseph has a short swing path and continues to show the ability to drive the ball toward the middle of the field. He also looks like he might hit for some more power in 2010. Almonte has long been a sleeper prospect, but the 20-year-old outfielder has yet to put it all together during the regular season. He is a big threat on the basepaths, with his plus speed and good first step, but his bat has really stood out this spring. The switch-hitting Almonte drives the ball with authority to the opposite field as well as any player at his level in Yankees camp. With his good range in center field, he can absolutely stick at the position, so with his developing skills at the plate and speed, he is, if nothing else, someone worth monitoring.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.