Luis Heredia made a start at Pirate City yesterday in an intrasquad game in extended Spring Training. He went three innings, giving up a run on two hits, with a walk and four strikeouts.
Heredia had an easy first inning. He worked a full count and got the leadoff hitter to pop out to short. He followed that up with a first pitch ground out to short. The 1-2-3 inning was completed with a strikeout looking on his fastball. He needed 14 pitches to get through the frame.
In the second inning Heredia gave up a leadoff walk to Ali Solis, walking the upper level catcher on four pitches. After that he struck out the side. The first strikeout was against Kevin Ross, who missed a two strike bunt attempt. The next two were more legit, with Heredia working again with his fastball and changeup.
Heredia had some problems in the third. He gave up a leadoff triple to the left field gap, followed by a double down the third base line to score a run. He settled down and got two straight ground outs to third, keeping the runner stranded at second. He closed out the frame with a ground out to second.
On the day Heredia threw 48 pitches over three innings. He mostly worked on his fastball and changeup, throwing the fastball in the 89-91 MPH range. Heredia noted that his focus was on throwing strikes and getting quick outs, and that the slider would come later. He was throwing the pitch in his bullpen sessions and had some good break, but was struggling a bit with the command of the pitch. Heredia learned the slider last year, so it’s still a relatively new pitch. However, he’s had some command issues with his fastball in the past, which would take priority. His command of his fastball and changeup looked much better in this start compared to previous outings. He wasn’t up in the zone as much, and was throwing a lot of strikes.
It’s not a guarantee that Heredia will go immediately to West Virginia. He hasn’t thrown more than three innings in a start yet, and has only been throwing for the past month. The Pirates are approaching him one start at a time to see where he’s at with his stuff, and physically. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, he was held back in part due to being out of shape during Spring Training. He’s in better shape now, but that has also limited his workload. It wouldn’t be horrible if he starts off in Jamestown then goes to West Virginia after a few starts. He’s still only 18 years old, and turns 19 in August. That would be very similar to the approach Quinton Miller took in 2009 at the same age.
Jon Sandfort Seeing Improvements With the Changeup
Starting opposite Heredia was Jon Sandfort, third round pick in the 2012 draft. Sandfort had some issues in the first and third innings, otherwise known as the innings where he went up against Barrett Barnes and Harold Ramirez. Ramirez hit a three run homer off Sandfort in the first, after Barnes led off with a single. That led to his inning eventually getting rolled due to a high pitch count.
The right-hander was much better in the second inning, finishing it off by striking out Luis Urena looking on an inside fastball on a full count. He ran into some trouble again in the third, giving up doubles to Barnes and Ramirez.
Sandfort showed good downward movement on his fastball, and had a nice curveball. He throws it with more of an overhand delivery and gets a big 12-to-6 break, with the pitch finishing down in the zone. The fastball has only been 87-90 in the times I’ve seen him this year, down from 92-94 and touching as high as 96 in high school. Sandfort noted that he could get back to that by throwing everyday and building up arm strength.
The focus so far this year has been working on the changeup and commanding his four seam fastball. He’s made some good strides with the changeup during extended Spring Training, with the pitch coming out of his hand like his fastball and dropping off at the end.
“The last month and a half I’ve been throwing the changeup really well,” Sandfort said, also noting that it wasn’t good on this day. “I could throw it whenever I want, in any count, and be spot on with it.”
The other focus is commanding his four seam fastball. Sandfort previously threw a two-seam fastball as well, but the Pirates have a pretty standard approach of having younger pitchers focusing on commanding the four-seamer, then giving the two-seamer back a few years later. That’s the approach they’re taking with Sandfort.
He has been starting all year, and should go on to be a starter in Jamestown. His fastball command and the development of his changeup will continue to be important focuses in Jamestown, and it will be interesting to see if his velocity bounces back as the season goes on.
“This year’s going to be a good year no matter where I’m at,” Sandfort said. “Just get a feel for a whole year, playing eight months straight and throwing the ball. It’s going to be good no matter where I end up going.”
**I’ve been impressed with Harold Ramirez this year. In this game he hit a three run homer off Jon Sandfort, then doubled down the third base line in his next at-bat. He makes strong contact, has a quick swing, and good speed on the bases. That speed allows him to play center field, which is where he was playing in this game.
**Edwin Espinal is a big third baseman who was signed two years ago and made his debut in the GCL last year. I should say he used to be a big third baseman because he’s slimmed down a lot since joining the system. He was playing first base, with Jimmy Rider at third. Espinal has a strong arm and a lot of raw power, so it will be interesting to see if he gets a shot at third again. He still profiles as a guy who will eventually end up at first, but also a guy who could stick at third for a few years if he manages his weight.
**Ulises Montilla crushed a homer late in the game off Oderman Rocha. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Montilla go to Jamestown, even though he’s making the jump to the US this year.
**Elvis Escobar entered the game in the second half and hit a hard double to the gap off Rocha. He and Ramirez will likely be the top two prospects to watch in Jamestown.