A year ago, on August 19th, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed right handed pitcher Luis Heredia, the top pitching prospect out of Mexico, and arguably the top international prospect in 2010. Heredia signed for $2.6 M, which set a Pirates’ franchise record for the biggest signing bonus for an international player.
On Thursday, a little over a year after signing, Heredia finished up his first professional season. The 6′ 6″, 205 pound pitcher, who turned 17 years old earlier in the month, threw 30.1 innings, with a 4.75 ERA, a 6.8 K/9 and a 5.6 BB/9 ratio.
I saw Heredia this year when I was down in Bradenton for Spring Training. We had heard that he was already a hard thrower, working in the low 90s, with the ability to throw several other pitches, and the makings of four plus pitches. As usual in the lower levels of the Pirates’ system, Heredia was working mostly on fastball command when I saw him. The surprising thing was that he was throwing around 94 MPH, with reports that he touched 96 (I had him at 94 on my radar gun, but I did miss a few pitches at the start of his outing).
Heredia stayed in extended Spring Training, and didn’t make his debut until June 21st when the Gulf Coast League started their season. He started off strong, with two no-hit innings to begin his outing, and 2.2 innings with two runs allowed overall. He only gave up one hit, but allowed three walks.
That was the story of Heredia’s first year. He didn’t allow a lot of hits, with 28 in 30.1 innings, but gave up a lot of walks, with 19. That’s not a big concern for a guy who was 16 years old for most of the year, with very little experience playing competitive baseball.
Terry Mathews reported on two of Heredia’s starts this year. The first one came on August 13th. Terry noted that Heredia was missing high, and was hitting 91-92 MPH with his fastball. Terry saw him again on August 25th for his final start of the year, and summed up why Heredia’s numbers this year don’t reflect his future potential:
He also flashed a nice change and curve which, when implemented in a “real” game plan, looks like it could keep batters off balance. Since the Pirates put such an emphasize on fastballs at this (and the next couple) levels, batters are really able to sit on the heat and not worry about looking silly on offspeed pitches.
One downside to the fastball approach is that it doesn’t provide strong short term numbers. The control is obviously an issue for Heredia, but his overall numbers would have probably been better if he was allowed to dominate by working with his off-speed stuff. There are two problems with this approach. The first problem is that Heredia misses the chance to focus on fastball command, which is important to have in the upper levels. The second problem with going with an off-speed heavy approach is that it runs a higher risk of injury, especially with the curveball, as it puts more strain on the arm. In each case, you’re sacrificing Heredia’s long term potential for better numbers in rookie ball.
Overall, the season was a good start for Heredia. The Pirates will probably follow this up with another conservative season, sending him to State College next year, where he will continue to work on fastball command. I’d expect him to get around 50-60 innings, based on what we’ve seen the past two years from high school pitchers going to short season A-ball. From there, a perfect world projection has him spending a year in West Virginia, splitting the 2014 season between high-A and AA, and splitting the 2015 season between AAA and the majors, ending up in the majors before his 21st birthday. Even if he needed an extra year in there, he’d be up by the age of 21.
Heredia is a great young talent, but this gives a good idea as to how much time the Pirates have to develop him. Year one showed that he’s very raw, but at the same time, it also showed some flashes of his upside. If he can throw in the mid-90s, while flashing strong secondary stuff at the age of 16, just think what he can do at the age of 20 or 21, especially if he continues to add velocity.