April 2013 Prospect Profile: Trenton's Outfield
The Yankees have depth at those three spots in spades, but it’s in the latter where the quality shines through; Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and Mason Williams are ranked among the organization’s Top 4 prospects on several lists, with Zoilo Almonte, Ramon Flores, Melky Mesa, and Ravel Santana all appearing in various Top 20 or Top 25 rankings as well.
Austin, Heathcott, Flores, and Williams spent the latter season together at Class-A Advanced Tampa, and the first three moved up this year to be the starting outfield at Double-A Trenton. They’ve gotten to know each other very well, and despite the fact that they’re all highly touted prospects ostensibly competing for the same jobs, they’re also still teammates and friends.
“In the grand scheme of things we’re competing against each other, but we’re all friends; we want to see each other succeed, and it’s just one of those things where you work together and learn from each other,” Heathcott said. “That’s what good teams do and that’s how you become successful.”
“We’re all really close, we’re always pushing each other and we enjoy learning as much as we can from one another as well,” Austin added. “Just watching them every day, you can learn something, and it’s great to be around them.”
Flores agreed, saying through a translator that their friendship – and their competition – extends on and off the field, and in all facets of the game.
“It’s great working with them and playing with them. We try to play hard and help each other get better and keep winning,” Flores said. “We push each other in batting practice, in the games, and help each other. They’ve been great teammates. We’ve been together two years now and I have a great relationship with them.”
One of the keys to a good outfield is good communication, which could be tough given that Flores speaks Spanish and is still learning English; however, just playing together for a few months last year and in the early part of this year, the Thunder trio is starting to gel defensively very well.
“The main thing is that everyone has good speed and is aggressive. We just kind of learn how to play with each other, and we have good communication,” Heathcott said. “We played a lot together in Tampa last year, so we’re used to playing together and that gave us a jump this year.”
Despite being top prospects and part of a dream outfield, they all do know that there is still plenty to work on as they continue down to the road to the Majors. For Heathcott, health plays a big role in that, as he played just 194 games in his first three years in the system.
“I have to stay healthy, and figure out how to play as hard as I like to but also learn how to play smart, cut it back when I need to and know what situations call for,” Heathcott said. “And, I think every part of my game could improve. I need to work on cleaning up my first step and being aggressive, and at the plate, working on my approach and knowing the pitchers’ tendencies so I can be in a position to hit any pitch in any count.”
“One of my biggest strengths is making adjustments at the plate pitch to pitch, but I feel like I still need to work on everything,” Austin added. “There’s nothing I’m perfect at, and nothing I ever will be perfect at, so I just have to keep working and getting better every day.”
Flores was more succinct, summing up his goals in four quick statements.
“I want to play hard, put up good numbers, keep getting better, and help the team win,” he said.
Should that latter one happen, it would mark the second straight year that Austin and Flores will help the Thunder to and through the postseason. Both were called up to Trenton last September for the team’s run to the Eastern League Championship Series – with Flores calling that “a wonderful experience” – and Austin hopes he gets that chance once again. “Last year was awesome, the guys up here were awesome and it was an unbelievable experience. We didn’t come away with a championship, but hopefully this year we’ll go all the way,” Austin said.
Until then, however, the trio will continue to work, knowing that after spending time with a great manager in Luis Sojo last year, they’re now working with another top-flight skipper in Tony Franklin.
“Tony knows how he likes it and you respect that. He demands that you play hard and he wants you to play the game right, which I think is the biggest thing any young player can learn,” Heathcott said. “He’ s been around the game a long time so he knows a lot. You learn something new every day, but by now he’s probably seen it all, so now we can learn something from him every day.”
And, as Austin confirmed, they can’t – and won’t – let their past successes and that status of “top prospect” cloud their heads.
“I’m not too worried about all that. Last year is in the past so I have to move forward and focus on what I need to do this year to help my team win and have a good season,” he said.
Added Heathcott: “It’s a long season, so you have to go day to day; whether you go 0-4 or 4-4, that day is over and you have to worry about the next day. That’s all you can do.”
Who will be the first to realize their dream out of the dream outfield? All three obviously hope it’s them, but according to Heathcott, the ride there will be worth it no matter who it is.
“(Flores), everything he does looks easy; he has a smooth swing, he runs well, and the game comes easy to him,” Heathcott said, “and Tyler has unbelievable strength at the plate; look at what he's done already, and he’s still learning. We’re all trying to help each other out to get to the next level, and it’s going to be fun.”
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