One of my favorite stories of the 2018 minor league season so far is the development of Nick Heath. There’s a decent chance that Nick Heath is the fastest runner in the entire Royals organization. Yes, even faster than Terrance Gore. It’s not likely we’ll find out, but I really wouldn’t doubt it. Nick Heath is fast, like, REALLY FAST.
But that’s not all Nick Heath is really good at. Heath struggled a bit with High-A Wilmington during his first go round at the level in 2017, but he turned things on its head this season. After only walking 7.7% of the time last year, Nick Heath found himself among the Carolina League leaders in walks in 2018 with an outrageous 14.9% BB%. For someone as fast as Heath, being on base is one of the most important things to be good at. So far in 2018, Heath has taken his on-base ability to the next level and got himself promoted to AA by doing so.
Nick may be one of the nicest players I’ve ever talked with. He was kind enough to sit down and do an interview for us that I think you’re really going to enjoy. Check out some of the stuff he has to say about his season and his game here:
Q: Your game seems to be predicated on a few things. Being an elite runner, a great defender, and being on base at an elite clip. Is that a fair analysis?
Nick: “Without a doubt, power hasn’t always been my game even though it’s there (or so I like to think). I know my best baseball comes when I see more pitches, find a way on base no matter how I get on. I do my best to be sound on defense so I know my team is comfortable when I’m in the field. As for the running, it definitely helps me in all aspects!”
Q: Walking isn’t exactly the sexiest thing you can do at the plate, but someone as fast as you needs to be on base as much as possible, in any way possible. When did you learn to command the zone so well and maybe accept that walking is often times a successful outcome.
Nick: “I think this season after my rehab is when I started to really understand my strike zone. Just knowing my role as a player wether it be leading off or in the two hole when I was in Wilmington, or while I’m hitting 8 like I am here so far. I think my biggest thought process so far is, I’m on base if you don’t come to me as a hitter. Also knowing if you come in the strike zone that I have a chance to wreak a little havoc with my legs.”
Q: The Royals have made a clear effort to stockpile guys like you. Rudy Martin. Blake Perkins. Michael Gigliotti. DJ Burt. Khalil Lee. You all have really similar styles. You fit the Royals mold. You make things really tough for defenses. Tell me a little what it’s like to play for an organization that puts your skill set at a premium.
Nick: “It’s awesome to know that the things we’ve been blessed with, like speed and defense are valued here. Makes us feel a little more at home, like we’re truly apart of this organization rather than maybe getting lost in the mix. They do a great job of reminding us what our game is and how we can help. Laying out what helps us move up which is the things that all of those guys you listed are doing a really good job of right now. I can speak for a lot of them saying that this is some of their best baseball and I have a really good feeling that this is just the beginning you know? We’re just polishing one piece of our game right now and that’s getting on base and getting better pitches to hit and playing really sound defense. When we get more time to work on more things I think it only goes up from here. All really young guys with really high ceilings.”
Q: What would you say your best attribute on the field is?
Nick: “I think that’s tough to answer, but I might not call it an attribute? I think it’s the ability to let my instincts take over. Lately it’s been more of an attempt to be able to read the ball of the bat. Working on reading swings which is translating to get to balls faster, expand my range and help out my pitchers. Each season I’m trying to one up my defensive performance of the last season and so far it’s been working out really well for me!”
Q: Which spot are you most comfortable in out there? I hear you have 80-grade speed, sounds like a useful tool for a CF.
Nick: “I’d definitely admit to being most comfortable in centerfield. We have a lot of guys who can play that position in Lee, Perkins, Martin, Hicklen, Gigs I can name a ton of them. So definitely bouncing techniques and mentalities off of them and watching them when they play to polish my own game. Lately I’ve played a lot more left and right field. I played right field in college so I’m comfortable over there and left field is becoming easier by the day. The day they give me the call to say I’m going to be able to play in the big leagues no matter what position I play up there, I’d like to be polished in all 3. Whatever they need me to play at the time I’m going to be prepared to play, so I enjoy moving around but I’d call home centerfield without a doubt!”
Q: Is there a big leaguer you try to model yourself after?
Nick: “I’m a huge Kevin Kiermaier defensively. I watched him play last year in September and he absolutely amazed me the way he got to baseballs. One day I’d love to work with him and pick his brain about how he works in the outfield. Offensively I was a big Jacoby Ellsbury fan I loved his swing, he could run, had a little bit of pop. So I view those guys as people I’d want to compared to.”
Q: What something you want royals fans to know about you?
Nick: “I think I’d want Royals fans to know, despite what any stat says, I wake up everyday and play this game passionately. Good days, bad days, or anything in between I work hard, along with the guys who play beside me. I love this game in a way that I haven’t really loved anything else. I do my best to keep my faith during the season despite any outcome. Lastly my smile is the brightest thing I have, I’m going to smile always because I know at the end of the day it’s a game but it’s a game that’s turned me into the person I am today and I’m beyond thankful that the royals took a shot on me in 2016. I love the guys I play next to day in and day out and I hope to see them at any point down the road when I reach the level I hope to reach, that they get to experience my enthusiasm for this game personally.”
Royals fans, you need to know this name. Nick Heath is currently slashing .318/.362/.455/.816 with a SB and 4 XBH in 13 games with AA Northwest Arkansas. The Royals have a bit of a logjam in the outfield as it stands, but Nick Heath has played well enough that we could very well see him by the end of the 2019 season. Learning to walk at an elite rate has sky-rocketed Heath up prospect lists in 2018, and the best still may be yet to come for the 24-year old outfielder.