Nick Heath was a 16th round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals and could be called up at some point next season.
Nick Heath batted 0.260 as a redshirt junior in 2016 and is the type of player that the Kansas City Royals like. Although he had just 2 home runs in his final year at Northwestern State, Heath knocked in 27 runs in 57 games while stealing 35 bases.
He started this season at Double-A NW Arkansas, slashing 0.255/0.332/0.382 with 10 doubles, 7 triples, 6 home runs, and 27 RBI’s. He and fellow Royals prospect, Khalil Lee led the Texas League in stolen bases with 50 and 53, respectively.
Heath’s performance was good enough for him to be promoted to Triple-A where he finished out the final 21 games of the season. There he slashed 0.256/0.392/0.410 with 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 home runs, 9 RBI’s, and had 10 stolen bases there as well.
I had a chance to catch up with him.
Q: Being from Junction City, what did it mean to you to be selected by the home state Royals in 2016?
A: Being selected by the Royals at first was really quite the experience, I didn’t realize how many of my friends and people in my community actually supported them simply because I had been in Junction City my entire life and noticed that it wasn’t the big baseball community. A lot of people were pulling for K State and KU and that’s about it, of course, you had your Chiefs fans.
Once I actually started playing and getting into a groove with the organization I started realizing that people were only 2 hours away if I’d have ever gotten the opportunity to make the big league team. So the amount of support from people back home is unreal. I had people come to watch us in Arkansas which was about 4-5 hours away if I’m not mistaken. Once I got to Omaha I’d have somebody from back home come to visit almost every game.
That type of love makes me want to play in the K that much more, just being able to be close and show love to the people that supported me back in high school and college as well.
Q: Coming out of Northwestern State, did you feel you should have gone higher in the draft than you did? If so, has that put a chip on your shoulder?
A: Coming out of NSU, I didn’t quite know how the draft worked. I truly didn’t even think I had what it took to play pro ball. Yea I knew I could run and play defense but I was small. Guys on my team at the time and previously were definitely way better than I was and seeing some of those guys not get drafted or get a look I really thought I’d finish my 4 years and go find a job. As for higher or lower, once I started hearing I’d get the chance to play professional ball I didn’t care where it was that I went I just wanted to play.
Selfishly and the competitor in me said: “you’re definitely better than where they took you, but just show them that when you get there.” I always have a little chip on my shoulder, but I also always bet on myself. I don’t have a problem when people doubt me or my ability, I just prove them wrong with a smile on my face and let the rest run its own course.
Q: I want to also congratulate you on a really good 2019 season. You moved up to Triple-A Omaha after 84 games in Double-A. We also started to see a bit more of a power stroke (6 home runs). Is there anything you can attribute to this and is there a specific workout regimen you’ve been following to help with the power?
A: Well thank you first of all, and second I’m not quite sure where the power came from. I think I’ve always had it, my swing just wasn’t geared for it, my swing was more for the low line drive or a ground ball to help my chances of getting on base. I think my swing went from going down on the ball to being more level with the ball coming in so I could stay in the strike zone a little longer.
Our hitting coach in AA definitely helped me adjust my pregame routine and it started working for me. I guess the only thing I want to do is cut down on my strikeouts simply because being the leadoff hitter most of the year at wherever I was playing I can’t be walking back to the dugout when I have the ability to run like I can.
Q: The amount of bases you steal is crazy; 60 total this season. How have you been able to get a good read on every pitcher to get the jump needed? You and Adalberto Mondesi would make for a great 1-2 punch at the top of a lineup one day.
A: I do my research from time to time on how fast pitchers are to the plate or tendencies they may have when they pick over or not. For the most part, I think it’s just having the courage to say I’m going to run right here and you’re going to have to make one hell of a throw to throw me out. My leads had gotten a little bit bigger and it definitely helped when I had guys behind me like my old roommate DJ Burt when he got in the lineup to tell me things like “why are you still standing there?”
Coming into the year I told myself I wanted to steal 60 bases. Something high like that so it would make me run more, then halfway through the season, I’m seeing that I’m at 40 almost and I’m like “man you can actually get there” so I started to push it a little more. I had bets with guys about it saying if I’d have gotten more stolen bases than they did we’d have to go out for a steak dinner on them.
Unfortunately for Mondi, I’ve gotten to be in a lineup with him a few times this season due to his injuries. But nonetheless leading off and him hitting 2. Or him leading off and myself hitting 2 was really fun. It’s unreal the way he runs and how smooth and effortless it seems like it is. I’d have loved the opportunity to experience that in the big leagues but unfortunately we probably won’t get that chance this season. So going into the off-season my goal is to be healthy again and get myself in the shape and work on my swing more to put me up there after spring training!
Q: Assuming you start at Triple-A next season, there seems to be plenty of opportunity at the big league level for playing time in the outfield. What would it mean to you to finally get the call?
A: It would mean the world truthfully, seeing two friends just get called up for the first time and the joy on their faces was unreal and there’s nothing more awesome than seeing them reach their goals you know? I can only imagine for me there’s going to be tears and a moment of “holy s***” you’re really here now, it’s really happening.
You put in all this work that some people see, or some people don’t and you go harder day in and day out to reach that. So that feeling must be something I’m sure in indescribable. Then you shake back and realize everything you did in the minors on your way up is nothing compared to what you’re going to have to do to maintain where you are now.
The new challenges and all that stuff is unbelievable, so I’m excited for that day to come when it does. I know mentally I’ll be prepared for it and physically I will be too. I want to force my hand a little bit and make my case for it by the end of next spring training!
Q: Can you touch on your injury status? Also, the few interactions we’ve had on Twitter, you have always had a really fun attitude. How do you manage to keep things so light in such a competitive atmosphere both between teams and within for prospects fighting to move up?
A: I just sprained a ligament in my thumb, nothing serious but serious enough to sideline me for a little. It was kind of a bummer not to play the last 14 games of the season because the competitor in me wanted 10 more bases, 20 more points on my average and just things that I knew I had set out to do the last month and unfortunately it just didn’t get to happen but I think I’ve pretty much come to peace with it and know there’s not much I can do now.
I do my best to laugh all the time or have a good time simply because I can’t walk around the field all day upset or too locked in, I think it puts a damper on my mood and at that point, I can’t go out there relaxed. Good days or bad days I promise you’ll see my smile on that field. I wouldn’t say I’m too worried about competition whether it is in our own organization or in another organization simply because I know we all want the same thing. I’m not discrediting anyone I play against by any means, I would never.
But when I say that I mean that we do all this work all year long and when I step in the box or out in the field, the work that I put in is going to show, and it becomes and game of who’s worked harder and who’s more prepared for the situation at hand. If I get beat, I know that I didn’t do everything I could to win that battle at the moment and if I win the battle I know I’m going to have to go win in 3-4 more times that night.
I think it’s all in preparation, and I am pretty confident in the way that I prepare. When I see that someone else has adjusted and prepared better than me there’s my sign that I need to get back to it and work a little harder the time after. At the end of the day it’s all fun, most guys are just like you.. a kid with a dream or some older kids with dreams and we all want to reach that level.
So when we aren’t playing against each other it’s fun to meet new guys and laugh about things before the game at the field or after the game off the field. You see a lot of familiar faces and it’s nice to know we’re all just big kids at the end of the day. You have to keep it light a lot or you’ll drive yourself into the ground I feel like.
A special thank you to Nick (@inheathwetrust) for taking the time to speak with me. We hope to see you break camp with the big league roster in 2020!