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.
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 started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.