Maybe the best thing about the world of Minor League Baseball is the randomness of it. No one can accurately predict the future of every single prospect. No one analytic has perfected the art of finding diamonds in the rough. We’ve gotten better as years go on, but there is always a chance for young players that put in the work that is necessary to be a Major League Baseball player.
Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to judge the future value of a guy like Nick Heath. I’m going to give you some raw data and we’ll make some judgments based solely on that data, then we’ll play the same game again with a different set of data.
- 25 year old outfielder in AA
- Career .075 ISO
- K% over 23% at every level in which he played at least 50 games
- 16th round draft pick in 2016
That does not sound like much of a prospect. Too old for the level, hits for little-to-no power, strikes out way too much to not hit for any power, and wasn’t a highly sought after prospect during his draft. Based on those numbers alone, you probably wouldn’t even stop to look twice at a guy like Nick Heath. Now let’s try a different set of numbers.
- 80-grade speed
- Potential elite defender in CF
- Improved BB% up into double digits in 2018
- Stole 39 bases in 90 games in 2018
- Hit .338/.427/.442/.869 with 13 stolen bases in the Arizona Fall League
Now that’s a bit more like it. Nothing that will launch him into any top 100 lists, but that’s a serviceable skill-set that should have some value in the big leagues. One name people like to throw around when discussing Nick Heath is Jarrod Dyson, and I think there’s some merit to that comparison. Let’s take a look at the two and see what the numbers say.
2008: High-A, 23 years old, 331 PA, .260/.337/.288, 39 SB, 9.7% BB%, 18.1% K%. 80 wRC+
2018: High-A/AA, 24 years old, 362 PA, .274/.376/.358, 39 SB, 13.3% BB%, 27.1% K%. 113 wRC+
Heath is a year older than Dyson in this seasonal comparison, but he also made it to AA while Dyson spent the entire 2018 campaign in High-A. He also hit pretty substantially better than Dyson did at the same level. Nick Heath may never play as good of defense in CF as Dyson did (though I wouldn’t completely rule that out), but his bat should serve as a great equalizer between the two.
Nick Heath and Jarrod Dyson are not the same player, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Heath could offer some similar value to the next competitive Royals team as a fourth outfielder off the bench that plays semi-regularly against right-handed pitchers and is a menace on the basepaths in late innings. Heath knows that speed will be his meal ticket to the big leagues.
”I think what they want me to do the most is just use my speed. Get on base, cause havoc, create a lot of distress. Whether it’s walking or bunting, or hitting through the shift, whatever. Just get on base and use that speed.”
Jarrod Dyson has averaged roughly 2.8 fWAR per 162 games played in the big leagues, which I think would be an excellent outcome for Nick Heath’s career.
The Royals took Heath in the 16th round of the 2016 draft out of Northwestern State in Louisiana where he hit .260 with 35 steals his junior year. He hails from Georgia, but moved to Junction City, Kansas as a child and graduated from Junction City High School. His mother was a track athlete who ran the 100 meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials in 1988.
He showed his speed immediately upon being selected by the Royals, swiping 36 bags in 62 games while hitting .291/.350/.387 for Idaho Falls in 2016. His numbers took a dip in the tough hitting environment in Wilmington the next season, but he hit .284/.397/.366 in 54 games there this year before being promoted to AA. He was 20th among all minor leaguers this year with 39 steals.
Heath figures to start his 2019 campaign with AA Northwest Arkansas, but I expect he’ll take a path very similar to Nicky Lopez’ 2018 campaign and end the year with AAA Omaha. If Alex Gordon is traded or benched at any time during 2019, and anything should happen to one of Brett Phillips/Brian Goodwin, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see Heath in the big leagues in 2019.