The Royals selected Nick Heath as the 493rd player overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. Heath is a 6’1″ left-handed outfielder from Northwestern State University. Heath graduated from Junction City High School in Junction City, Kansas, as part of the class of 2012. Nick also ran some track and played a little bit of football at Junction City HS. Baseball was definitely his sport in high school. Heath only had a few offers to go play college baseball at Coffeyville CC, Hutchinson CC, or Emporia State. When one of Emporia State’s coaches left to be a grad assistant at Northwestern State, the door opened for Heath to go play D1 baseball.
Heath red shirted his first year at Northwestern State because he wasn’t ready to play but got the chance that summer to go to the Hampton’s Collegiate Baseball League and play for the North Fork Ospreys. Heath was named the MVP of the HCBL Championship Series as he lead his team to the championship. Heath realized that summer he could play with guys at the D1 level and came back with a renewed sense of confidence. In 2015, Heath set the league record with 43 stolen bases and was named a Top 5 prospect in the league by Baseball America.
Heath is known as a speed guy. He is the guy that gets on base and creates havoc. Pitchers don’t like guys like this because it distracts them from the hitter and allows pitches to be hit as more fastballs are thrown to combat the threat of the stolen base. Speed guys are usually known as defensive players as well and Heath is no different. Heath models his defensive game after Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Kiermaier. Ellsbury burst onto the scene for the Red Sox when he hit 32 home runs and stole 39 bases in 2011. Ellsbury has gone on to be a very successful player who is known for both his speed on offense and defense. Kiermaier is one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders because he covers so much ground and can make spectacular catches. Heath models himself to Kiermaier in the sense that he covers a lot of ground as well. Heath has been working on getting better reads off the bat to help him make those spectacular catches. Here is an example of one of those catches.
Heath also talks about getting his speed from his mother Kimberly. She was a track athlete who ran the 100 meters in the 1988 US Olympic trials. Kimberly used to joke that Nick couldn’t beat her in running until one day he challenged her to a race and won. Kimberly went to Kansas State University and has emphasized hard work to her son.
Heath is a career .273/.350/.348 in the minors with 91 walks to 221 strikeouts. Heath has 100 career stolen bases and just 29 caught stealing attempts. Overall he is successful nearly 78% of the time. Nick gets on base enough to make the stolen base his primary weapon. As he goes forward, it would be nice to see him bump his slugging percentage up slightly but not at the expense of getting on base. Heath does have some pop and can hit it out of the park but is not focused on that. Over the last season, he cut his strikeout to walk ratio down from 3:1 to 2:1 which helped him raise his on base percentage by 60 points from 2017 to 2018. Heath was having an awesome season at Wilmington before being moved up to NWA midway through the 2018 season. At Wilmington, Heath had a 125 wRC+ and was getting on base almost 40% of the time. NWA brought him back down a little, but I have no doubt he will continue to improve as he is focused on getting better every day.
The Royals are sending Heath to the Arizona Fall League to see how he fairs this fall season. They want to see what they have in him as a prospect because he does turn 25 this off season. Heath says he is looking forward to the challenges of the AFL. He wants to see how he fits in with the best prospects in baseball and get a sense of the level of the game in the AFL. He says he is nervous but is looking forward to it. The Royals like speedy outfielders with a little bit of pop. Heath fits that bill. Who knows, if the Royals were in a championship type of season, they may have brought him up just to pinch run like they did with Terrance Gore. Heath will likely be back at NWA to start the 2019 season playing all three outfield spots like he did this year.