Double A Prospect Report: Yankees Tyler Austin Looks Legit, but Slade Heathcott Needs Work

My home state of New Jersey is home to two affiliated minor league franchises, the Double A Eastern League Trenton Thunder, a New York Yankee affiliate, and the Low A South Atlantic League Lakewood Blue Claws, a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate. The Trenton home field is about 40 minutes away, while the Lakewood field is a mere 15 minutes away. I also get to see the short season Staten Island Yankees, the short season Yankee affiliate.

So I get a great opportunity to see three different levels of professional baseball, and two of the local major league teams for me. The Phillies actually play closer to my Jersey Shore home than either of the two New York teams.

I do like to see guys on more than one occasion before I assess their talent, especially here in the northeast, where early weather (usually rainy and cold) can cause slow starts by many players who are not used to such terrible weather*.

*One of the reasons Mike Trout wasn’t drafted higher than 27th in 2009 was because he played in New Jersey, which typically doesn’t get the same game opportunities of kids in Florida, Texas and California. Trout had scouts at his games, but during his senior year, the rainy weather was especially bad, and had canceled opportunities for many scouts to see Trout play. Can’t really draft what you don’t get to see.

However, I did see a couple games played by Trenton, when they hosted the Cleveland Indians Double-A affiliate Akron Aeros, and the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a San Francisco Giants affiliate, and will give my early reports. Since I am a Yankee fan, I generally follow the Yankee minor league teams closely and have seen games from every one of their affiliates.

Let me first get the analysis of the Akron team out of the way: I did not see anyone on this roster that will have an impact for the Cleveland Indians major league franchise. No one. Not anyone in their lineup, not even a single reliever. Chien-Hsiu Chen did not play in the game I saw, but has mostly DH’d this season. I saw a bunch of mid-range type players, with some who might become major leaguers, but few which warrant much conversation. One, a very large first baseman named Jesus Aguilar, has shown power in the past but he does not possess a good build and is brutal around first base.

Unless the Indians sign a bunch of quality free agents who perform, they could be bad for quite awhile. A handful of garbage they received in trades for CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee didn’t help their system.

The Richmond team had a couple of interesting players, former top picks. Joe Panik, a former 2011 first round pick, is similar to current Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford as he is a quality fielder who will never hit for any type of power. Panik was converted to second base this season and showed an ability to put the bat on the ball with two opposite field singles. He kept his hands tight on both hits, basically pushing the ball out to left field. These were hits more reminiscent of dead ball era game than the power game of today. While he does have strike zone discipline, he is similar to many of these “work the count” guys who take way too many hittable pitches over the middle of the plate. His second at bat saw Panik take two (very hittable) pitches down the middle, getting behind 0-2 before working the count even then pushing that first base hit.

The Giants 2011 second round pick, catcher Andrew Susac, showed good pitch recognition, never once flinching on off speed pitches out of the zone. He walked three times, and was especially impressive laying off several two strike sliders from one of the hard throwing Yankee relievers.  I wasn’t a big fan of his pre-swing hand movements, and his tendency to pull his front shoulder out too early which forces his arms to cast out from his body. But those are easily correctable faults a decent hitting coach should be able to fix in the cage.

Behind the plate Susac receives the ball well and has good footwork when throwing. Who knows what the Giants will do with Buster Posey a few years from now (maybe move him to 1B?) which could all depend on how well Susac develops.

The Yankees Double A squad is full of top prospects, with three of their top 11 at this level, all of which are on the offensive side. There are also boatloads of bullpen arms, many who can bring the heat.

First, the offense.

Tyler Austin

Austin is ranked by MLB.com as the third ranked Yankee prospect, behind Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams, both who are a level below. Austin is not very patient at the plate (he often is a first pitch swinger), but does draw his share of free passes as he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone. However, he sometimes expands the zone early in the count, especially on the first pitch. While I love first pitch hitters, especially with runners in scoring position, it is usually better to swing at pitches in your zone in 0-0 counts.

Austin has a wait and be quick approach, allowing the ball to get deep before unleashing quick hands directly to the ball. In one at bat, Austin belted a line drive single up the middle on a 1-2 change up, waiting for the outside corner pitch to get there before he attacked. He also pulls his hands in pretty well on inside heat, often getting the barrel on the ball.

He never appears off balance whether swinging the bat or taking pitches. In one at bat versus a submariner, Austin calmy fouled off two tough breaking pitches before working an eight pitch walk.

Austin didn’t have many opportunities in the field, but he appears to have strong instincts, often adjusting his pre-pitch positioning due to the count.

It is these factors which will propel Austin up the ladder to the majors. Although he has started slow this season with the average and power numbers, these should improve due to Austin’s quality approach.

Slade Heathcott

I had seen Heathcott a couple seasons ago in Charleston, and he was raw, showing great speed, good outfield range and strong throwing arm, but lacked refinement. I heard quite a few great things from his Arizona Fall League appearance, and was looking to see Heathcott improve on his quality 2012 season.

Man, was I severely disappointed.

Heathcott was often off balance when swinging (vs. a LH starter), mainly all upper body, and using nothing from his lower half. This caused him to move over his front side several times and end up swinging one handed. His swing was very reminiscent of current Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, another hitter who rarely uses his lower half.

Heathcott showed his tremendous speed in forcing the shortstop into an error on a routine ground ball, and putting down a great bunt to the first baseman for a single. Bunting is an important part of Slade’s game, even from his time in Charleston.

With Heathcott’s injury history it is very apparent the Yankees want him healthy all season. On one play a shallow fly ball was hit to center and Slade rushed in, then slowed to let the ball fall just in front of him. A clean hit for sure, but I was thinking the old 110% effort Slade would have dove for that ball. It is very clear to me the Yankees have spoken to Heathcott about not going all out on outfield plays.

I was disappointed that Heathcott has such a terrible swing at this point of his 2013 season, a season which has such high promise. It is time for the Thunder hitting coach to get some extra cage time with Heathcott to change his overall mechanics to use his lower half (that is where power is derived) and stay back.

Ramon Flores

Flores is a tweener guy who shows very good hitting skills, great strike zone discipline, but doesn’t project for me as having much future power.

He takes an inordinate amount of pitches, early and late in the count, ahead and behind, many just off the plate even with two strikes. Flores just doesn’t swing at bad pitches or good pitchers pitches, which is very important. He has a great line drive stroke and quick bat, but no loft where home runs will come. He is adequate in the outfield, and has shown the ability to play each of the outfield positions. This versatility, plate discipline lends Flores as a fourth outfielder type, but if he gets to the major leagues, working with Kevin Long could help Flores in the power department and boost his potential.

Kyle Roller

Speaking of power, Kyle Roller has immense power. The over sized, but compact left handed hitter is mostly pull oriented, often pulling off the ball and letting his hands get away from his body. Roller has a slight drop to his hands and sometimes gets over his front side, bringing his hands along for that ride. However, on one swing Roller kept his hands in and belted a very high and long home run, which had tremendous back spin – a true major league blast. If Roller can get his swing a little more compact, and stay back more consistently, he could do major damage with a short right field porch.

He was smoother than I expected around the first base bag, shifting his feet well and showing the ability to throw to second base, but he lacks range and wouldn’t be a long term, full time defensive option.

Rob Segedin

A very solid hitter who consistently puts the bat on the ball and can work the ball from line to line. But Segedin could be had inside and I don’t project much home run power with his type of swing. He also rotates too much, pulling up and out on the ball, and can roll the ball over too much.

He is also very shaky on defense, both with a consistent glove and ability to make a quality throw.

Neil Medchill

There has been lots of talk about the possibility Medchill has resurrected his prospect status with a hot start including four home runs.

Stop the talk, please. Medchill still has a long swing which causes him to come around the ball far too often. During the Richmond game I saw, I was sitting behind a Flying Squirrel starting pitcher keeping a chart. On one pitch Medchill swung and fouled off a pitch. I said to the pitcher, “You can get this guy inside all day long with that swing.” He replied, “You see that too?” NEXT PITCH on inside corner splintered Medchill’s bat for a weak ground ball to second base.

Medchill can connect on mistakes over the plate once in a while, but at higher levels when pitchers can locate much better, his power will be non-existent, but the strikeouts will still be there.

Daniel Burawa

Burawa was flat out filthy the first time I saw him. Fastball was between 94-96 and he hit 97 six times. Everything was down in the zone, and the fastball and slider was getting quite a few swings and misses. He was also able to back door his slider for called strikes.

His arm gets up high pretty early and he throws slightly across his body, with his foot plant off by a couple inches in his direct line to the plate. I would try and clean up his mechanics a bit.

However, the second time I saw him, Burawa was all over the place. The velocity once again was there, but the command was not. His slider was also flat, and could use some tightening and consistency. Major league hitters will slap around that pitch when flat. It seemed Burawa could “get comfortable” with the fastball and lose the zone with a lack of concentration.

Tommy Kahnle

Another power arm in Trenton, Kahnle has a smooth delivery with a solid fastball sitting 94-96. He located very well, even his slider, peppering the low outside corner to RHH. Control has always been an issue, but he had command and control in this one inning. However, there have been a couple games this season where he makes Daniel Cabrera look like Greg Maddux.

When he locates his pitches, Kahnle is virtually unhittable as his fastball and slider grade even higher.

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