Luis Heredia Headed in the Wrong Direction

The 2014 Luis Heredia isn’t the same as the 2013 version. In some ways that is a good thing, but in other ways that is a bad sign. I got to see Heredia pitch last Saturday in Lakewood and talked to a scout afterwards, as well as someone who has seen Heredia a lot the last two years. Then, after his six shutout innings last night, I talked to that same scout, who followed the team to Delmarva. While the reports were better, they still weren’t good.

Luis Heredia threw six shutout innings Thursday, but the scouting report wasn't good. (Photo Credit: Nick Scala)
Luis Heredia threw six shutout innings Thursday, but the scouting report wasn’t good. (Photo Credit: Nick Scala)

On Saturday, Heredia had a quick first inning, then get hit around in the second. The overall line didn’t look bad, but he was getting some help from impatient hitters. Heredia was missing down with his fastball in the second and by down, I mean he was bouncing it in the dirt often. When he started throwing a lot of pitches in the second inning, he started leaving the ball up in the zone and missing high. When it was in the zone, he got crushed.

The rest of the start on Saturday, his fastball was from the belt to the chest of the hitters. Occasionally they chased, because a 90 MPH fastball can be tempting up in the zone. In the bullpen before the game, Heredia had a nice downhill plane on everything he threw, so it looked like it was going to be a good day, but that didn’t carry over into the game. The downhill turned into balls in the dirt and the pitch then became elevated and the game plan going into the game was lost.

A good sign from each of his last two starts is the success with his change-up. It was the best pitch for Heredia each game, as the fastball was inconsistent and his slurve wasn’t working. The change sits mid-80’s and is a swing-and-miss pitch when it’s on. It offers a nice separation from his fastball, which was in the 90-92 range on Saturday and touching 93-94 MPH occasionally on Thursday. Heredia also left his changeup up in the zone, but his arm action was good enough to that had batters out in front.

The Differences Between 2013 and 2014

I saw Heredia pitch twice last year, and the same scout I talked to this week saw him pitch numerous times last year. The thought that Heredia isn’t the same pitcher as last year was the impression I got from watching him. It was also the first thing the scout said to me after his start on Saturday.

During the second start I saw in 2013, it looked like he was using all three of his pitches and they all looked good at times. His fastball was sitting 91-93 MPH and he held that velocity all game. He was keeping hitters off-balance and working quickly. There was no sign of that version of Heredia on Saturday. He wasn’t working quick, wasn’t keeping hitters off balance and his fastball was a tick slow, sometimes dropping as low as 88 MPH.

There are a couple of differences between that 2013 version and the 2014 version that aren’t “stuff” related. Last year, Heredia came into camp in poor shape and was held back. This year, he came into camp in much better shape and he looks much better from that standpoint.

The other difference is what he does with his head after he throws a pitch. Last year, Heredia would bury his head in his left armpit/chest area after delivering the pitch. That was something the Pirates harped on him to stop, pointed out whenever he did it and it seems to have stopped. I didn’t notice it once on Saturday and it was something I was watching for. You can see in this video below, he doesn’t bury his head during warm-ups, but a few pitches into the inning, the problem begins.

Those two differences can be considered improvements. The other differences are with his stuff and those differences aren’t good. Heredia seems to have a different breaking pitch every year, switching from a curve, to a slider to a slurve. The Pirates switched him to the slider in 2012 to give him a strikeout pitch and early results were good. He now throws a slurve and it didn’t look good in either of his last two starts.

Talking to the scout, he didn’t like the new pitch at all and said they need to leave him alone and let him work on one pitch, as this is how arm injuries occur. He wasn’t surprised that Heredia missed a month this year with shoulder soreness. The scout suggested that the pitch “needs a total overhaul”, but he also said they need to give him one pitch and let him stick with it. The slurve isn’t working, but his breaking ball looked good last year. There’s a reason the Pirates made the change.

The Pirates switched Heredia from the curve to the slurve because the second pitch is more of a power pitch and they want him to be a power pitcher. The curve has a loopy motion, while a slurve has a hard sideways action to it. The team also believes that the arm slot for the slurve will lead to better mechanics with his fastball. The curve came from a high arm slot, while the slurve is a three-quarters arm slot. So far, the changes haven’t been for the best because it hasn’t helped the fastball and now his third offering is a pitch that he is barely using, with very little success. I saw a handful on Saturday with zero positive results.

The other big difference with Heredia is his fastball consistency. He has always had some command issues, but last year it seemed like he lost it for a batter and regained his form. He would work both sides of the zone and the fastball would get some swing and misses. His delivery these last two starts was described as “out of sync” and he was mostly right over the middle of the plate, missing badly both high and low, not side-to-side. That helps explain why anytime he was in the zone, the ball was getting hammered. It was a flat, belt-high fastball that was coming in 90 MPH and even Low-A hitters will crush that pitch in their comfort zone. The change to the slurve was supposed to help his fastball mechanics, but early on in the process, it seems to have hurt him.

Heredia’s Headed in the Wrong Direction

It’s hard to look at six shutout innings and find faults, especially when he gives up four hits and one walk, but the game isn’t played on paper and scouting isn’t just about performance. When Heredia signed, we heard about the 16-year-old with a fastball that touches 96 MPH from a 6’6″ frame, plus he had two other pitches that were already considered plus (change) and average (curve). The 19-year-old version is not the same pitcher and he hasn’t progressed at all from last year or even the initial reports.

When you have a 16-year-old that hits mid-90’s and has a huge frame, you can picture him filling out and sitting mid-90’s pretty easily. That isn’t a huge stretch to think he would get there by now. When you hear he has the makings of two plus pitches, you can envision and future top-end starter and his $3,000,000 bonus suggests the Pirates saw the same thing. What you don’t like to see is that same pitcher taking steps back three years down the line.

Heredia is still young for the level, still has the huge frame and he is actually in better shape. He’s made some changes for the better, but the results aren’t there. His plus fastball is now an average fastball that lacks command. His plus change-up is his best pitch, but is not a plus pitch at this moment. His average curve, turned strikeout slider, has turned into a below-average slurve that isn’t working yet.

Heredia is a two-pitch pitcher, who has command issues with one of those pitches. That doesn’t sound like the player that projects as a top of the rotation starter anymore. It’s important to remember that he is making changes and might just need to stick with one thing and keep working on it. If he was a kid from the U.S. that went to college, he would’ve been a Freshman this year. That tends to get lost because he has been around so long. He is younger than 31 players the Pirates drafted this year. Still, Heredia sounded better when he signed and looked like a better pitcher last year, so he needs to turn things around before he gets too far off-track.

  • John Dreker
    June 28, 2014 9:49 am

    Read the articles linked above, both were very positive. It’s an honest scouting report on a prospect that everyone follows. When someone does good, you point out the good, when they do bad, you point out the bad, anything else and we aren’t doing our job right. This isn’t the Pirates site, so there is no need to sugar coat everything.

  • Nuke Laloosh
    June 28, 2014 9:25 am

    That’s a special fb! Hope he figures it out.

    • John Dreker
      June 28, 2014 9:51 am

      I’ve never heard him hitting anything higher than 96 and we get game reports all the time. The 98-99 may have been on the WV gun, which I heard was fast. So fast that it had Yhonathan Barrios hitting 103 MPH this year. He throws hard, but he hasn’t hit triple digits anywhere else

      • Nuke Laloosh
        June 30, 2014 9:05 am

        Thanks John. I thought it would be a stretch for him to be suddenly throwing that hard.

  • When you sign 16 year olds you’re always taking a gamble. And sometimes you lose. If indeed he does need to be added to the 40 man this offseason, the best move might be to trade him, depending on who else has to get added to the 40 man (and there’s a lot of crap there right now).

  • Grilli dealt for Ernesto Frieri according to mlb network.

  • Judging a player in the lower levels of the minors is such a tough thing because a lot of times they are working on certain aspects of their game which isn’t necessarily conducive to great results statistically. Especially in the Pirates’ system. Still, Heredia has underachieved and his conditioning hasn’t been good…but I’m much more concerned about how he pitches in July & August than what he has done so far. There is still plenty of time for him to get it together mechanically and physically and start to impress with stats and also the scouts. Everyone learns at their own pace and you just hope he finds the maturity and drive to get in better shape so he can become the physical pitcher they envisioned back when he was 15. If he starts making some progress this season and then jumps a level each year he can still be in the majors before he turns 23. Nothing wrong with that. Also, Heredia has only thrown 191 innings which doesn’t even add up to two full seasons in a college rotation. I think we need to wait until the end of 2015 before you start to drastically lower expectations.

    • John Dreker
      June 27, 2014 7:16 pm

      I think the point is that you would like to see some type of progress and it isn’t there. This article was written after he threw six shutout innings, so the results obviously had nothing to do with it. It’s a scouting report from multiple sources over a two year period and he has taken a step back. That isn’t what you want to see. Last August, I wrote about how good he looked and was comparing it to his previous start and what I heard about him, so this is basically a continuation of that article and what has been changed, which is a lot, and what has gone wrong.

  • I sometimes wonder if the Pirates have overloaded him and babied him so much he has become lost. I a look at him and in three years he probably hasn’t thrown 150 innings. How can a pitcher get better if he never pitches. When he came he supposedly had 6 different curves now he doesn’t have one decent curve. I would not count him out but it might be time to take the governor off and let the kid throw some pitches.

    • Not the Pirates’ fo’s fault. He has been out of shape and injured and that has probably cost him between 50-100 ip.

      • John Dreker
        June 27, 2014 7:11 pm

        I think people confuse stat line innings with the amount of work they get. Players like Heredia are still pitching when they aren’t with teams(except when they are injured). They get Extended Spring Training innings, they get Fall Instructional League innings. Those innings just aren’t on paper, but they are pitching to live batters in game situations.

        • Definitely aware they get other work in other than recorded games against other franchises teams. There’s just no way to quantify it for the average fan sitting at home. Innings are great but innings while facing real opponents are even better.

  • Sounds like good trade bait for someone who still thinks they can turn him into the next king felix!!! TB???

    • At Heredia’s age, King Felix was on his way to the majors en route to making 12 dominant starts. Nobody believes he has a ceiling like that, no one really ever did.

  • Nuke Laloosh
    June 27, 2014 2:33 pm

    I questioned his rank in the top 20 not too long ago. I know he is young and hopefully will come along but his development has been slow, which is concerning.

    • John Dreker
      June 27, 2014 2:44 pm

      It’s the size, potential, age all working together, but he would be a little lower for me now. If you listen to the scout, he thinks they just need to stop tinkering and let him do his thing

      • Leefoo Rug Bug
        June 27, 2014 2:45 pm

        How did he lose so much MPH on his FB?

        • John Dreker
          June 27, 2014 2:55 pm

          He didn’t lose a lot, he just never improved. The one link has his early stats, 88-92, touched 96. He doesn’t touch 96 anymore, but he was 94 last night a few times. He was sitting 91-93 last year, now it’s more 90-92, but there will be an occasional 88-89 in there instead of sitting 91-93. I’d say the avg difference from last year is just over 1 MPH and more in line with the 16 year old Heredia, just not the 96 he hit back then. I heard he has hit 95 a couple times this year. I think the problem is he was projected to add velocity and four years later, he is a tick slow. Any loss without much better control is disappointing

          • Nuke Laloosh
            June 27, 2014 4:00 pm

            When I saw him in State College two years ago he hit 90 on very few pitches. Maybe the gun at State College was the slow gun but either way I didn’t see the velocity that night. He was only 17 at the time though.

            • John Dreker
              June 27, 2014 7:08 pm

              The reports I got from SC were higher back then, about the same as we heard prior. He tired out quicker back then. I listened to a handful of his starts, especially the first 4-5 and they had him low 90’s. I remember being surprised he wasn’t hitting 96 at the time, like we heard out of Spring Training, but he wasn’t far off

  • Ron Loreski
    June 27, 2014 2:18 pm

    I get the feeling Heredia is never going to pan out as a starter. Maybe they should try grooming him as the future closer. If I’m not mistaken, he’ll need to be added to the 40 man roster this off season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

  • Did you see anything in the two games you watched that looked like a difference in his delivery between the fastball and the offspeed/breaking pitches? I was at the game Saturday in Lakewood, and while I’m not good enough to know what I was seeing, by the third or fourth inning I felt like I could tell from his delivery whether the pitch was going to be a fastball or not.

    • John Dreker
      June 27, 2014 2:42 pm

      I was only at the one game, got reports from two other people on yesterday’s game. I have seen in the past where guys will tip their pitches, but didn’t notice that with Heredia. Usually for right-handed pitchers, it’s easier to notice that(at least for me) down the 3b line a little and I was right behind home plate, just to the right of the catcher. The scout never mentioned it either and he was at both games. I have seen pitchers that were bad about tipping, Clay Holmes was early last year and by the third time I saw him, I couldn’t tell