Heathcott Making Progress

To say Slade Heathcott has had his fair share of health issues since his first round selection back in 2009 would be one of the all-time biggest understatements. He had amassed over 300 at-bats in a season just once in his minor league career entering the 2014 campaign and, accomplishing that feat a year ago, it turns out he wasn't even healthy then either and that's why he missed this year too.

Dealing with various shoulder and knee injuries earlier in his career, he seemed to have turned a corner back in 2012 when he was with the high-A Tampa Yankees, returning that year from shoulder surgery in late June and hitting a career-high .302 the rest of the way before turning even more heads with a .388 showing in the Arizona Fall League later that offseason.

It also turns out that, despite chipping in with a career-high 399 at-bats the following year, it was the last time Heathcott really actually felt 100 percent.

"There's been times {I've felt 100 percent]," he said. "It was probably 2012 after my second shoulder surgery and in the Fall League [that year] and finished that part of the season. But you know I don't know if any of us ever really play at 100 percent."

And for some that rings especially true. He didn't stay healthy for long, injuring his right knee during the early part of Spring Training in 2013.

"I hurt it in Spring Training of 2013 in the first part of February," he recounted. "I was running from first to third and hit the base weird on the inside [part of the] leg, and I just felt something weird. It just never got better and I played through it up until August but I wasn't helping the team and I wasn't helping myself. The pain just got a little too bad to deal with."

Still, he wound up hitting a very respectable .261 for Double-A Trenton in 2013 with a career-high eight home runs and in hindsight the production was pretty admirable given the fact that he played the entire season with a less than 100 percent knee.

He had knee surgery, a patella graf to be exact, in September of that year and spent yet another offseason rehabbing his way back to get ready for the 2014 season.

"I just kind of dealt with it all year [that season] and it just got to the point where it wasn't smart for me to play on it anymore so we had the procedure done at the end of September," he said.

He reported to camp this year seemingly ready to go at the start but the situation with his knee quickly eroded. He began the year on the disabled list and missed the first six weeks before making his season debut with Double-A Trenton on May 15th. He lasted just nine games, however, and his 2014 season came to end on May 27th.

"It never got better," he admitted. "We did what we did, the rehab. I just had to give it a shot but it never felt like it was back to normal. It just wasn't the right procedure and things didn't go the way we had planned so I had it done again. We looked at it again, had another procedure done, and I've just been in Pensacola doing rehab with guys."

He had another knee surgery in late June after spending a month getting second and third opinions.

"We kind of knew had to figure something out. I traveled around and got a couple of different doctors' opinions, got together and discussed it, and went from there.

"It feels good as of now. Hopefully I'll get fully cleared somewhere around November or December and be completely ready for Spring Training."

It's been nearly three months since his surgery and he says that while it is still very early in his rehab -- he is still months away from actual baseball activities -- his knee does feel different, and in a good way.

"I feel good," he said. "I still have up and down days but nothing unusual, just tenderness and soreness from picking up the pace. I started jogging progression in the pool so it's been good. It feels good. I still have a long ways to go but hey, it's part of it."

Dealing with various injuries like he has over the past five years has allowed him to mature a bit more mentally and become a bit more relaxed in his own rehab expectations. What first began as anger and then disappointment in his earlier years in regards to his injuries has now become a steadier and more mild-mannered approach to getting better.

"It's obviously kind of annoying but at the same time it's out of my control," he said of always being injured. "That's kind of the approach I try to take with it.

"People go through injuries all of the time in this game so it's just [about] trying to figure it out. I know this time before I really pick things up I'm going to be completely ready to play, that way I don't injure something else.

"The five years I've been playing I've had what, four or five surgeries now, and I've never been injured in a game. That's something I'm kind of trying to sort through because I want to stay on the field this year, figure out how to play and not get hurt doing training and things like that."

The progress from his most recent surgery -- the fifth of his young career -- has been slow and steady to this point, and he plans on keeping it that way in an effort to be ready and fully healthy for the 2015 season.

"The next step is just building strength. It's a day by day process. It's kind of a rare operation [they did]. The swelling is gone now and I'm gaining strength back.

"I know the rehab guys here in Pensacola are happy with it, I know Dr. Andrews -- I see him a couple of times a week -- he is happy with it, so the next step is just continued progression to eventually jogging on land and then working up to full speed, and then lower body workouts.

"Every offseason I've had I've done nothing but rehab. I've never really had the opportunity to go to Spring Training really ready at all so when I do show up to Spring Training I'm just trying to catch up. But hopefully this year if everything works out, and that's the plan, I'll have enough time to be ready, finally get in shape and be ready to play.

"If everything goes the way it's going now then I don't see why I wouldn't be ready for Spring Training and I don't even see why I wouldn't be ready by the end of the [calendar] year. So we'll see," he concluded.

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