Exactly one year ago, No. 6 Yankees prospect
Slade Heathcott smacked a home run for Tampa in his Class A Advanced debut. Afterward he told MiLB.com, "There's a long season still to go."
Little did Heathcott know, his 2011 season was over. After his left shoulder quit on him two-thirds of the way through the year, he waited two months and then underwent a second surgery.
One year later, Heathcott went deep for the second straight day and reached base four times in the Tampa Yankees' 9-5 loss to the visiting Brevard County Manatees.
Serving as his club's designated hitter in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, New York's first-round draftee in 2009 pulled the homer toward right field in the first inning and smacked a leadoff double in the sixth. Both occurred on middle-in fastballs. He also drew a walk in the third and was plunked in the seventh to complete his perfect day at the plate.
One key to success: Lowering his hands in his batting stance, something he found himself doing naturally in Spring Training.
"Staying as short as possible but still having rhythm," said Heathcott, who also went yard and collected three hits in Thursday's 7-1 win over the Manatees. "Last year, I started with my hands high and struggled with being late. [I'm] trying to be in a good position to hit. That way, no matter, fastball or changeup, I can say I'm in a position [to hit], which I can say I haven't really done these last three years.
"I have been trying to find my power again -- not that I have a lot -- but just trying to hit the ball harder more often."
There is one other aim: "I want to get out there and run some balls down, but we're taking it easy with the shoulder and making sure I am 100 percent healthy unlike last year."
Known for his aggressive style of roaming in center field, Heathcott hasn't yet thrown the baseball with full effort and doesn't expect to assume his defensive position for another two to three weeks.
The 21-year-old Texarkana, Ark. native said he plans to simulate "cold throws," or throwing, say, in the middle of an inning when his arm isn't warmed up. "That's one thing I want to clear up," he said. "That's how I hurt my shoulder last year."
The words "last year" he says repeatedly with some disdain, and that's because it was another setback in his career. Taking into account his troubled teens and a torn ligament in his knee during his high school career, he has had trouble staying on the field.
After enduring his latest surgery, he attended physical therapy sessions with Dr. John Hisamoto in north Tampa before slinking down to two or three days of week and, now, performing exercises on his own. Two surgeries down, he says, "Obviously don't want a third strike.
"Just trying to play hard, but at the same time play smart. That way I don't have another injury."
After finishing his rehab in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Heathcott is batting .318 with six RBIs through six games back with Tampa. He spent all but that one big game in 2011 with Class A Charleston, where he hit .271 with four homers and 16 RBIs in 52 games. He also played 76 games with the RiverDogs in 2010, a year after receiving a $2.2 million signing bonus (double the then-slot for his selection) when New York made him the 29th overall draftee in 2010.
"My big goal is at the plate," he said. "I want to have a good year, I want to have some power numbers."
Despite giving up Heathcott's homer, Manatees starter Andy Moye (2-0) earned the win. The right-hander yielded two runs on four hits over six innings.
Yanks counterpart Matt Tracy (2-2) was charged with seven runs -- six earned -- on six hits, including Jason Rogers' longball, over 4 2/3 frames.