Updated: Jun 28, 2021
In 2015, the New York Yankees had a weird season. It was a year they were supposed to be "rebuilding", but that rebuild was short-lived as the team hosted and lost the American League Wild Card Game to the Houston Astros, checking in at 88 wins, one ahead of Houston and two ahead of Los Angeles to nab the first wild card spot. In seasons like this, a wide array of supporting characters do something to help the team, and one of them is now a pilot who had a successful brief stint in the majors with another one of the coolest names.
Move over, Norris Hopper. It's time to talk about Slade Heathcott.
A TOUGH ROAD THROUGH THE MINORS
Four picks after Mike Trout was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Yankees selected an outfielder by the name of Slade Heathcott from Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas 29th overall.
Despite hitting well at each level, his first few seasons were marred by shoulder surgeries, having one after the 2010 season and one during the 2011 season, but hit well when he returned from surgery.
Heathcott had battled alcohol problems since his junior year of high school, and after they arose during his minor league career, they introduced him to Sam Marsonek, a former player who played one game with the Yankees, who helped Heathcott to turn his life around, using religion to do so.
Heathcott continued to hit well, taking a natural path to Double-A Trenton by 2013. He batted .261 with eight home runs and 49 RBI in 2013, earning him a 40-man roster add by the Yankees. Despite all this, he needed yet another surgery, this time on his knee. When he returned, he played just nine games before re-aggravating his knee again, requiring another surgery. In the offseason, the Yankees non-tendered Heathcott.
Four surgeries and a non-tender is a rough path that not many people have to face, but luckily, it wasn't the end of the road for Slade Heathcott. 15 teams reached out to him after his non-tender, but it was the Yankees who brought him back on a minor-league deal. They re-signed him again in January with a spring training invite, and as spring training rolled around, Heathcott finally arrived.
2015 Spring Training was Heathcott's time to shine. He was still just 24 years old, and had a spring training to remember in Tampa. In 21 games, he batted .355 with two doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBI, finishing fourth in the Grapefruit League in runs scored with 12. For his efforts, he received the James P. Dawson Award, given to the best Yankees rookie in spring training. He had eyes on him starting the season in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
MADE IT (MLB)
When starting outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury went down with an injury in May, Heathcott was the next man up. He entered as a defensive replacement in his first game and received a start the next day, proceeding to go 2-3 with a double in his first start.
Carrying that .667 line home against Kansas City, he went 3-for-his-next-9, including his first major league homer, this absolute laser of a shot off Greg Holland.
Unfortunately for Heathcott, the injury bug bit him again, straining his quadriceps femurs muscle and landing on the disabled list. He finished his first stint in the big leagues slashing .353/.353/.588 with a home run and three RBI. An injury is another tough pill to swallow, but nothing Heathcotthadn't faced before.
He was activated and optioned back to Triple-A on July 31st, spending the rest of the minor league season with the RailRiders and coming back in September to the Yankees.
The Yankees were embroiled in a fierce postseason chase in 2015 and needed all the wins they could get. On September 14, they were trailing the Rays 1-0 going into the ninth before Alex Rodriguez tied the game with a double. After an intentional walk to Brian McCann, Heathcott was called upon to bat for Rico Noel, a run-first player who had replaced Carlos Beltran on the basepaths earlier in the game.
So what did Heathcott do in his first at-bat back from the minors? Socked this clutch opposite-field three-run homer off Rays' closer Brad Boxberger that stood up as the winning run. He was absolutely pumped rounding the bases and running into the dugout, which I love to see. It got the Yankees going.
While he wasn't on the postseason roster, Heathcott burnished his credentials for the rest of the season, going 3-7 with a double and two RBI.
His final big league stats, albeit in a small sample size (which is still my favorite thing) are legendary. He slashed .400/.429/.720, hit two home runs, drove in eight runs, had a 1.149 OPS and a 208 OPS+ (108-percent better than the average player), a .421 BABIP, .320 ISO, .475 wOBA and a 208 wRC+, contributing 0.5 fWAR. Just crazy stats for 17 games played, and it's a shame that is all he could do as he never played in the majors again. He never had a career batting average below .350 and an OPS below .940.
After latching on with a few more organizations, he retired after a rough go of things with the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2018 and retired in 2019 to become a pilot. In his Twitter bio, you can see that he is "striving to become the most interesting person in the world", and being a pilot is that interesting.
Slade Heathcott had a whirlwind 17 games in MLB and made the most of his time in the majors after a long and embattled journey to that spot. It's a shame he never stuck around, but he has that legendary stat line to tell everyone about.
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