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Thunder notes: Turley, Austin, Heathcott

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Just weeks after being released when his spot on the New York Yankees’ 40-man roster was needed, left-handed pitcher Nik Turley is back in the organization. A source confirmed earlier on Thursday a report from SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo indicating that Turley had re-joined the team on a minor league deal.

A former 50th round draft choice, Turley has yet to pitch this season after suffering an arm injury during spring training. Last year, he tossed 139 innings in 27 games for the Trenton Thunder, recording an 11-8 record and 3.88 ERA. Turley, who features one of the better breaking balls in the New York Yankees farm system, could be headed to either Trenton or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when healthy.

In other Thunder news, Mark Newman revealed to Chad Jennings of The Journal News that Tyler Austin (groin) and Bryan Mitchell (elbow), both of which have played for Trenton this season, are about a week away from returning to the team. However, Newman also mentioned that top prospect Slade Heathcott (knee surgery) “most likely” will be assigned to the Thunder when he is activated in the next week or so.

By shipping Heathcott back to Trenton, where he spent all of last season, it could create a logjam of sorts in the outfield. A center fielder by trade, Heathcott’s position has been filled at Double-A by Mason Williams, who many consider to be the organization’s top outfield prospect. Tyler Austin, another highly-regarded prospect on the Thunder roster, has seen a lot of his time in right field so far this season, but is also slated to play the infield corners on a semi-regular basis. He saw time at third base during his first full professional season before being shifted to right field.

Heathcott possesses one of best outfield arms in the farm system and center field filled in New York will be filled by Jacoby Ellsbury for the next foreseeable future. Therefore, shifting Heathcott to a corner could be the beginning of preparing him for a role in the Bronx, which could come as soon as next season.

With a 40-man roster spot already in his grasp, Heathcott’s clock is ticking faster and faster to make it to the majors. If he can prove his ability to handle the corner outfield spots defensively, Heathcott could become the replacement for Ichiro Suzuki after the season as the team's utility outfielder and develop into Carlos Beltran’s eventual successor in right field.

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