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Slade Heathcott showing hustle in minors

Yankees outfielder Slade Heathcott poses on picture day

Yankees outfielder Slade Heathcott poses on picture day during spring training at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2013) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Yankees prospect Slade Heathcott will do anything he can to help his team.

The Trenton Thunder centerfielder tries to beat out every ground ball. He doesn't think twice about trying to break up a double play. He'll sacrifice his body for any ball hit in his direction in the outfield. He's the definition of a hustle player, giving it his all on every play.

And that's what most concerns Double-A Trenton hitting coach Justin Turner.

"He's going to run through a wall for you," Turner said. "You never have to worry about him taking a play off, but sometimes it's like, 'Hey Slade, you can slow down a bit because we've got to keep you on the field.' "

Heathcott -- the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft -- believes his hustle is one of his greatest attributes, but coaches look at it a bit differently. They see a highly touted prospect who has spent his fair share of time on the disabled list. His all-out style has had a steep price: knee surgery in high school and two shoulder surgeries in the pros.

During spring training with the Yankees, Heathcott suffered a sprained right thumb and later was cut after suffering a knee injury.

Turner said the coaching staff talks frequently with Heathcott about dialing back his hustle, educating him on ways in which he can limit his exposure to high-risk plays. But for Heathcott, it's not that simple.

"Playing hard every day is probably one of the most important things for me," the 22-year-old said. "That's how the game is and I think that's part of respecting the game."

Though Heathcott has struggled to stay on the field -- he's never played more than 76 games in any of his four-plus seasons in the minors -- when he's been able to stay in the lineup, he has shown the ability to produce, flashing the potential that made him the Yankees' second-best prospect (behind outfielder Mason Williams) heading into the season, according to Baseball America.

After struggling with consistency at the plate during the first few weeks of the season -- he was batting .169 as recently as May 3 -- Heathcott has rebounded. Focusing on swinging at better pitches, he has raised his average nearly 70 points in the past three weeks, batting .312 with 13 RBIs and seven runs in a 16-game stretch.

"He's a tremendous athlete and a tremendous ballplayer, and I think we're just scratching the surface at age 22,'' Turner said. "Once this kid starts clicking, he's going to be a special player."

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