NEW YORK -- Bucking their recent Draft trend of leaning toward pitching, the Yankees selected high school outfielder Slade Heathcott with their first pick in Tuesday's First-Year Player Draft, the 29th selection overall.
Heathcott, 18, is the first position player the Yankees have taken in the first round since they selected C.J. Henry -- the main chip in a subsequent trade with the Phillies for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle -- 17th overall in 2005. The Yankees selected pitchers Gerrit Cole, Andrew Brackman and Ian Kennedy with their top picks the past three seasons.
"I had a feeling it might happen to a degree, but nothing was final," Heathcott said. "So it was still a pretty big surprise. I had [talked to the Yankees] quite a bit. I think it'll be an excellent fit."
The Yankees had not taken an outfielder this high since selecting John-Ford Griffin 23rd overall in 2001.
Heathcott, a powerful left-handed-hitting outfielder who is coming off ACL surgery on his left knee, is currently playing in the state tournament for Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas -- his semifinal game is Wednesday afternoon. Heathcott, a third-team all-state selection, has plus power to all fields, a strong arm from the outfield and above-average speed despite his recent surgery.
"We've been scouting Slade for two years, and we're excited about selecting him," Yankees vice president of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer said in a press release. "We really liked his combination of tools, athletic ability, performance and grit on the field. He's a versatile hitter and has good speed in addition to possessing an above-average arm."
Given his range and throwing strength, Heathcott is capable of slotting into any outfield position. He has been playing with a knee brace since his ACL reconstruction surgery last November.
"It's sore from time to time," Heathcott said. "I came back in 3 1/2 months to try to help my high school team out. The doctor said it would be sore, but it's doing well."
Although he retired from the mound prior to this season, Heathcott also has a history of pitching for his high school, boasting a fastball that regularly sits in the low 90s.
Scouting reports peg few weaknesses on the field, though Heathcott had scared off potential suitors due to character and academic issues.
Perhaps more disconcerting for the Yankees is Heathcott's former allegiance to the Red Sox -- a childhood preference he says he has since abandoned.
"I'm a Yankees fan now," Heathcott said.
Should he opt for college rather than the pros, Heathcott has committed to attend Louisiana State University. A second-team all-district running back in football, Heathcott may not immediately sign with the Yankees.
"I'm in a win-win situation either way," Heathcott said. "I'm ready to get started if it works out. I'm just in an excellent situation right now."
The Yankees' original first-round pick this year, the 25th overall, was awarded to the Angels as compensation for free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira. But New York received the 29th pick as compensation for Cole, its first-round selection last year, who chose to enroll at UCLA rather than sign.
The Yankees also lost their second-round pick, the 73rd overall, to the Brewers for free-agent starter CC Sabathia, and their third-round pick, 104th overall, to the Blue Jays for A.J. Burnett. But they did receive a second-round pick, the 76th overall, as compensation for another 2008 draftee, Scott Bittle, a Texarkana native who failed his physical and did not sign.
The result was that the Yankees had only two picks on the first night of the Draft. With their first, they selected Heathcott. With their second, they took John Murphy, a high school catcher.
As anticipated, the Nationals selected San Diego State right-hander Steven Strasburg with the first pick of this year's Draft.
Round 2, John Murphy, C, The Pendleton School (Bradenton, Fla.): An offensive-minded catcher with a line-drive swing, Murphy only recently converted to the position from the outfield. It is because of that switch that he leaped into the second round, as his offense alone may not have been enough to merit such early consideration. But Murphy, 18, has taken to life behind the plate, and the Yankees showed enough faith in his defensive skills to tab him 76th overall.