Prospect Notebook: Heredia Will Face a Huge Test in State College

Luis Heredia will start his 2012 season in State College.

Luis Heredia will begin the 2012 season in State College, which is an aggressive push for a player at his age. Heredia is 17 this year, and won’t turn 18 until the middle of August, when the short-season league will be coming close to the end of the season. The New York Penn League is typically dominated by college hitters, which will be a big test for a pitcher who has only thrown 30.1 innings in his pro career.

“It’s going to be a challenge for him. No question,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said of the assignment.

Heredia didn’t put up the best numbers last year in the Gulf Coast League. He struggled with his command, mostly needing to learn how to repeat his delivery. The Pirates felt that Heredia had improved on that, plus his secondary pitches, enough to make the jump to the next level.

“Improved fastball command. The improved consistency of the breaking ball. The maturity to go handle a league where there’s going to be players four and five years older than he is,” Huntington said of the traits that led to the decision to promote Heredia. “But he’s going to face that hopefully his entire career. Until he becomes 30 and then he’ll be one of the old guys in the league. Just a variety of factors that we felt like he was ready to step up to that challenge, ready to take on an older hitter. It’s going to make him command his fastball. It’s going to make him throw strikes. They’re not going to chase the breaking ball out of the zone. We felt like it would be a good challenge for him. There’s going to be bumps along the way. He may have some one inning starts. He may have some six inning master pieces, but we’re looking forward to his learning process.”

Like all pitchers in State College, priority number one will be fastball command. Heredia can be one of the hardest throwers in the system. He’s touched 98 MPH in the past, although he works mostly in the lower 90s to focus on maintaining his delivery and his control. He’s got the feel for his breaking stuff, and needs to improve the consistency of those pitches as well. But the breaking stuff won’t be effective if he can’t command the fastball.

“Fastball command is what we’re trying to get him to focus on. That’s what’s going to allow him to be successful,” Huntington said. “We’re not taking any pitches away, but we want him to emphasize the fastball command, the consistency of the breaking ball and the use of the changeup. The other pitches within there, he’s going to be allowed to continue to use them, but our emphasis is going to be on the basic foundation pitches.”

Heredia has the potential for up to four “plus” pitches, including his fastball. He’s got a lower floor than guys like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, but his ceiling is just as high, and maybe even higher. It will be interesting to watch him pitch this summer. If he grew up in the US, he would currently be in his senior year of high school. Instead, he’ll be pitching against hitters who just spent three to four years hitting college pitching. That will prove to be a huge test.

Heredia makes his 2012 debut on Thursday.


McPherson Impressive in Return to the Mound

Kyle McPherson returned to the mound yesterday after missing the first two months of the season with shoulder inflammation. The right-hander gave up one run on four hits in five innings, with a walk and five strikeouts.

On Sunday, Neal Huntington talked about McPherson’s return to the mound, noting that McPherson was a bit rusty, but that his stuff was encouraging.

“Our guys were very encouraged with what they saw with Kyle,” Huntington said. “Fastball, a little bit of rust, but commanded it fine. Breaking ball, a little bit of rust, but showed some very, very good signs. He used his off-speed stuff effectively. Most importantly he looked like he felt good, felt strong, felt healthy. Didn’t really protect anything so good outing from Kyle.”


Bell Rehab Update

Outfield prospect Josh Bell has been out since the end of April with meniscus surgery on his knee. He’s been participating in extended Spring Training, increasing the amount of baseball activities he participates in. He has yet to start running the bases, which is usually one of the final steps before a player can return.

“Josh is continuing to rehab the knee,” Huntington said. “Everything is going along just fine. Beginning more and more baseball activity, and not just the pure rehab activity. We’re looking forward to getting Josh back into more baseball functionality. Everything is going along fine.”