In the our Stealth Bomber series, we talk to players in the farm system who aren’t yet on the New York radar, but hope one day to be so.

Before his game Thursday against the Lakeville Blueclaws (Phillies Class A Affiliate), Charleston Riverdogs leadoff hitter and Yankees’ 2009 1st-round draft pick Slade Heathcott kicked it with NoMaas’ Gary Wallace in a wide-ranging interview. The 20-year old centerfielder is off to a monster start this season with a crazy line of .370/.440/.616 through 18 games. We discussed this and much more with Slade, who won our first 2011 Minor League Player of the Week Award.

Gary Wallace: How are you doing? How are you feeling?

Slade Heathcott: Feeling pretty good.

GW: I heard [the Charleston RiverDogs] were at Yankee Stadium last night watching the game…

SH: Yes, sir, we went up as a team to go watch the game. Some of the guys hadn’t been there before so it was a good experience.

GW: Hopefully they didn’t make you pay for the Legends seats or anything like that.

SH: No, we got lucky. We didn’t have to pay for anything.

GW: That’s good. Very nice of them. Just wanted to talk to you a little bit about the season you’re having and last year. Starting off with last season, looking back on 2010 now, your first full professional season, how do you feel about it?

SH: Well, it was alright. Couldn’t find my swing for most of the year, but everything happens for a reason. I’ve kind of learned from there, at least I think I have. Just got to hope it stays the way it’s going now, stick with what I’m doing everyday and try not to veer away from that too much.

GW: Whatever you learned, it seems to have worked because you came out on fire this year. Don’t know if you know it, but you’re currently fifth in the Sally League in OPS [min. 60 PAs]. Pretty damn impressive for a twenty year old, obviously. You had another good game last night. Could you have guessed you would tie your home run total from last year in a week?

SH: I think yeah. I would have hoped so. I didn’t really show much power last year and I really haven’t shown it much this year, but at least the doubles numbers have been good. I guess it will all come with time. The older I get the better I get, stuff like that. I know I’ve got more home run power than I’ve shown… I hope that it keeps coming around. Just whatever it takes to get me to the further level.

GW: Has there been any change in approach at the plate for you?

SH: I haven’t really changed my approach, just going back to the way I hit earlier in my life, in high school. Just hitting comfortable instead of going along with the organizational way or the supposedly right way to hit. Everyone has their own thing and I’m just trying to find mine, I think I’m on the right road. That’s baseball. Just trying to stick with that and not veer too far away from it. Hopefully it will keep working out.

GW: So some of the changes the changes the Yankees tried to employ didn’t really work out that great?

SH: Yeah. You know the combination of me not really understanding it the right way… and it not being presented the right way… It’s stuff that helps other people and I took it too far. I should have realized “Hey, this isn’t working,” and left it at that. Just trying to find my swing, you know? … At times it will be off… that’s always the struggle you have. I don’t think my swing is quite as where I want it to be, but it’s close and it’s a lot closer than it was last year. Hopefully I can find it. Just not lose confidence in it in bad times… Just because we find something we like doesn’t mean it will have the greatest results. Just having the courage and know how to stay with that and not veer from it.

GW: I feel bad for pitchers if this isn’t even your “good” swing right now…

SH: It’s not that it’s not a good swing. It’s got little things that I need to critique, but I feel comfortable. I’m seeing the ball. It’s not that it’s not my best swing, but I’m not getting the lift that I would like. Still getting pitches that I could do more with, but I’m not complaining whatsoever. I’m happy with the results. If that’s what comes from it, that’s what comes from it. If it helps me get better, it does; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

GW: There was recently a report from Josh Norris, I believe, that your shoulder hasn’t been one hundred percent since you signed with the Yankees. Is that correct?

SH: Yes and no. I wouldn’t say last year that it wasn’t one hundred percent throwing strength, because it was. I had my strength there… just a combination of me not knowing how to control it and the surgery kind of threw my shoulder off so I had trouble controlling where the ball was going last year. It was a hundred percent strength-wise, just not accuracy-wise. This year… I’m nowhere close to one hundred percent and hopefully it will get better by the end of the year. Just trying to take it day by day.

GW: Interesting, on another note, did you have any goals coming into this season? Anything you really wanted to achieve?

SH: Yes. Just trying to find my swing was the biggest thing. Trying to find my comfort level. Trying to find my approach that I think is going to work best for me. That’s been my biggest goal. Also, learning to play the game the right way; smart. Learning the situations to go for it, learning the situations not to. Just learning the game; that’s been kind of my biggest goal. Just playing every day the best I can.

GW: Your caught stealing numbers are kind of high, is that part of this learning process for you as well?

SH: That’s a thing I need to work on. I’ve never been the greatest base stealer, never have been. I never really worked at it. The caught stealings… two of them [in 2011] have been lefties that I’ve left on first move, I just kept going and they were pickoffs. One of them the other day was a righty and I just didn’t think of the “thirty one” move with a man on third and first… wasn’t thinking about that. Left on first move there, so that was a pickoff. When I’ve actually run it’s been three and one, so that’s been alright. It’s just learning the game; when to run, look to the pitcher… I just need a lot of work when it comes to baserunning.

GW: Those are things that we don’t see in box scores and when you give that perspective, it kind of changes things…

SH: My biggest thing right now — I had a lefty that I really thought was a balk move and it was a questionable call. We have two-man umpire system so it’s tough [for them] to see that balk move that would be called a balk with a four-man crew or even a three-man crew. Got picked off and I’m not much for getting into a rundown. I just feel like taking off as fast I can and sliding hard into second. If they get me, they do. If not, I’m on second. The pickoffs are leading to the caught stealing and I just need a lot of work with it. I’ve never worked with it before. I never was a base stealer before so that’s a new aspect of the game that I’m trying to learn.

GW: It’s a process obviously. If you had to dream, where do you see yourself playing baseball in August?

SH: I can say where I would like to be, but I have no control over it. The only thing I can do is play to the best of my ability and play as hard as I can. [The Yankees] obviously know more about me, they know where [I fit best]. I’d like to be in Tampa; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I try not to get caught up in that too much because if they don’t believe I can play there, or wherever it may be, I don’t want to be disappointed… Just trying to stay away from that as much as possible. If I had to say, I’d like to play in Tampa.

GW: Have you had any signature moment in your career so far?

SH: I don’t know what you mean when you say “signature moment.”

GW: Something that comes to mind when you think of your professional career so far.

SH: Just being able to wake up every day, seeing that I go to the park every day. Living to go hit BP. Kind of joke that I wake up and hit BP while other kids my age are trying to go to school, going to class. I really feel blessed for that perspective. I had a game with two home runs and that’s been better for me. Trying to get back to that point. Kind of rolling over stuff now. Trying to find that perfect medium and hope that… I can be consistent with it. I’ve been up, I’ve been down so far and we’ve only played eighteen games. Trying to get to that consistency point, whether it’s good or bad… I think that’s the main goal for us minor leaguers and people that are in the process down here.

GW: This will probably sound pretty contrived, but what would you say your greatest strength and weakness are as a player?

SH: I play hard. I make up for a lot of things by playing hard. It was the same thing when I played football. My biggest belief is you’ve got to play hard every day. When I think of myself as a hitter, I think I’m a long way from where I see myself or what I think I can be. I’m not a forty home run guy ever, never will be. When I think about myself hitting at the upper levels, I truly believe I can and so does everyone else… Time will tell. I’m real confident in my glove in the outfield, I get good reads. I’m perceived to be a lot faster than I am because of the reads I get in the outfield. Those are some of the strengths I would say I have.

GW: I think that’s what most people would say. You’ve got a lot of talented guys down there in Charleston, lots of what people would say are big prospects with Gary Sanchez, Ramon Flores, JR Murphy… Do you guys get a sense that there’s a lot of very talented people on that team?

SH: I get the sense that we have a lot of talented people in the Yankee organization right now. You could look at Hi-A where we have five outfielders now. You could look at AA where we have Melky Mesa who I think is one of our best prospects. We have Gary Sanchez here. That kid is so immature when it comes to the game and just young. If he ever figures it out he’s going to be an animal. He’s got all the tools, he’s got unbelievable power. We have JR Murphy who is in my opinion is one of the best hitters on Charleston and maybe in the upper levels. He just knows how to hit. He goes about it the right way and he’s consistent with it. I think that’s one of his biggest keys. Flores is a younger kid who I think is really good. Obviously I can’t say everyone is going to play for the Yankees but I think we have a bunch of key people in the organization from our level up who are going to play in the big leagues with somebody. I think the Yankees have a great minor league system right now.

GW: You’re a big part of that. I just want to thank you for taking time out to talk to me, I know you’ve got a game later so I’ll let you go. Good luck in the future.

SH: Thank you.

Many thanks to Slade for hanging with NoMaas and we wish him the best of luck. You can follow Slade and the rest of the Class-A Charleston Riverdogs at their official website.