The 2013 season was a disappointing one for top pitching prospect Luis Heredia. He was expected to make the jump to West Virginia early in the season, much like Jameson Taillon did back in 2011. He was going to get nearly a full season of pitching at an advanced level, with a chance to make some big strides with his game. Instead, Heredia came into camp out of shape, weighing 276 pounds and with a size 42 waist.
Heredia was throwing 88 MPH when he was 15 years old. When he signed with the Pirates, he was hitting 89-90 MPH. His velocity kept increasing, and he touched as high as 96 MPH in 2011. But in his first appearance last year, he was throwing 86 MPH. The Pirates decided to hold him back, and got him on a program to slim down. He spent the first half of the season in extended Spring Training, and by the time he was in West Virginia his velocity was hitting 92 MPH.
On the surface, Heredia had good numbers in West Virginia. He had a 3.05 ERA in 65 innings of work. However, he had a 5.1 BB/9 ratio in that time. A lot of guys in West Virginia saw big control problems early in the season, then improved the control in the second half. Top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Clay Holmes are two of the big examples. But because Heredia spent the first half of the season getting into shape, he missed the chance to make the same improvements.
“That’s the pro lifestyle,” Pirates farm director Larry Broadway said. “When you can do it every fifth day for a full season, by the end of it you’re going to be different than when you started. Because of the repetition and the discipline, and understanding routines.”
The 2014 season looks much better for Heredia from the outlook. For one, he is in much better shape than last year. He slimmed down to 240 pounds heading into Spring Training, dropping down to a size 36 waist. That sounds big, but Heredia is also a big kid at 6′ 6″. Heredia said he still has more to work on from a physical standpoint, but he is to the point where he can focus on getting a full season of work in. And in the process, Heredia seems to have matured.
“Last year I made mistakes,” Heredia said. “Now this year I’ll fix them.”
The Pirates will be sending Heredia back to West Virginia this year. This time around, he will be going there on Opening Day, rather than waiting until the cold weather of April passes. He might have a shot at moving up to Bradenton. Usually the Pirates keep young guys at West Virginia for a full season, but the circumstances surrounding Heredia could be different. Heredia wants to end up in Bradenton, but for now the Pirates are only focused on starting him in West Virginia and getting him a full season of pitching.
“This will be the first time that he will get a full year,” Broadway said. “He’s come in physically healthy and ready. Our goal is to get him pitching every fifth day for a full season.”
Heredia made his first start of Spring Training yesterday. The results were much better than the first start of the Spring last year. He threw two scoreless innings, giving up one walk with no strikeouts. He was primarily working on his fastball command, with the fastball sitting 90-92 MPH, and hitting 93 once. People expect Heredia to be an upper 90s pitcher, and that’s definitely possible in the future with his frame. But outside of hitting the mid-90s with a pitch here or there, Heredia has always been in the 88-92 MPH range, slowly creeping up as the years have gone on. That’s a normal progression for a kid that is only 19. Heredia said that he’s not focused on the speed as much as being able to compete with his fastball.
Another thing Heredia has been working on has been a new curveball. He started throwing a slurve in late 2012, which is a curveball that has hard, sideways movement like a slider. The focus on that pitch was to get more strikeouts. Last year he went back to mixing in his old curveball, which was a mid-70s pitch that had a big loop, more like a 12-to-6 curve. This year the Pirates want him only focusing on the slurve.
“The idea is just power for him,” Broadway said. “We’re probably going to get away from, mentally, a loopy curve.”
The focus with Heredia will be a power delivery, a power fastball, and a power breaking ball. He has also been working on his changeup, using that over the last two months in West Virginia last season. He continues to get a good feel for that pitch, which will be essential for his future as a starter.
Overall, Heredia is more of a project than guys like Jameson Taillon or even Tyler Glasnow. He’s got a high ceiling, but he’s also somewhat raw. The good thing is that he’s in much better shape this year, which means he can focus solely on improving his game in 2014.
“There is no comparison to last year,” Broadway said. “We all know it wasn’t good where he started. He didn’t take care of himself in the off-season. He’s taken some ownership of his career, and he’s in a much better position than he was last year.”