LUIS HEREDIA, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: August 16, 1994
Height: 6′ 7″
Signed: Int. FA, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2010
How Acquired: Int. FA
WTM’S PLAYER PROFILE
|Heredia became the Pirates’ first foray into the world of expensive international free agent signings when they inked him to a contract calling for a $2.6M bonus. The circumstances were unusual. Heredia signed with a Mexican team, Veracruz, before his 16th birthday. According to reporting by Dejan Kovacevic, then of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pirates’ Latin American scouting director, Rene Gayo, had been following Heredia for years and steered him to Veracruz, a team with which they have ties. Under the rules that apply in Mexico, the Pirates’ deal was actually with Veracruz, which received three-quarters of Heredia’s bonus. If you don’t count former GM Dave Littlefield’s PR stunt with Yoslan Herrera, the bonus was more than six times the largest the Pirates had ever paid for a Latin American amateur player up to that point, the previous high being the $400K they paid to Exicardo Cayonez. They signed him about a week after his 16th birthday, despite interest from a number of other teams, including the Yankees.
According to Baseball America, Heredia was the top pitching prospect available on the international market. Despite having just turned 16, he was sitting at 92 in a game shortly before the draft, as reported by Kovacevic. At the time he signed, he threw several fastballs with different action, with good life and command. He also threw a slider, curve and change, with scouts believing the latter two could turn into plus pitches. At such a young age, Heredia seemingly had a good chance to throw significantly harder as he got older. It’s very rare to find a 16-year-old who throws 92 mph. Instead, his velocity didn’t improve. In fact, it dropped at times, although it got better when he moved to relief.
Heredia pitched in the GCL rotation, although the Pirates monitored his workload carefully and he generally pitched 2-3 innings. Most of the time he was hard to hit, but he had some control meltdowns, which isn’t exactly surprising for a guy who pitched all but his last three games at age 16. He finished with only a few more strikeouts than walks. There were reports both from extended spring training and from early in the GCL season that he was throwing in the mid-90s, but his fastball eventually sat in the low 90s. Of course, that’s outstanding velocity given his age. His offspeed stuff was inconsistent. Baseball America ranked him the 3rd best prospect in the GCL.
Heredia spent the season in the rotation at State College. Apart from a low K rate, he pitched very well and Baseball America ranked him as the league’s second best prospect. A lot of his focus was keeping his fastball down in the zone and he succeeded in that, allowing only two HRs and producing a high groundball rate. Considering his age, the focus on fastball command, and the fact that his breaking pitches are still developing, the low K rate probably shouldn’t be a concern at this point.
Heredia had an uneven season. The Pirates were expected to hold him back in extended spring training for about a month in order to keep his innings count down. Instead, he came to camp out of shape and they held him back until late June. His performance did not draw raves from scouts. His fastball sat only in the low-90s, although it edged into the mid-90s at times. He had issues with his mechanics, which led to control problems. His control improved somewhat over the course of the 14 appearances he made (13 starts), but it still wasn’t as good as expected by season’s end. Heredia’s K rate increased substantially, but remained low for the level. He was a flyball pitcher after being predominantly a groundball pitcher the previous year. Still, opponents only hit .224 against him and he didn’t turn 19 until August 10.
Heredia had a very disappointing season. He came to camp in far better shape than the previous year. The Pirates sent him back to West Virginia to open the season, but he came out of his second start without throwing a pitch when he experienced shoulder soreness during warmups. He missed two months, then struggled when he came back. Through the end of July, he walked 26 hitters and fanned only 22. He finally turned that ratio around in August, when he walked seven and fanned 21, although that was still a low strikeout total for 35.1 IP. On the plus side, he had a high groundball rate, but his fastball during the season didn’t get out of the low-90s and at times was just in the high-80s. Left-handed hitters had an .861 OPS against him, right-handed hitters .633.
Heredia’s season was largely a disaster from beginning to end. To start with, the Pirates held him back in extended spring training due to dissatisfaction with his conditioning. He wasn’t nearly as out of shape as in 2013, but the team was unhappy enough that he didn’t debut with Bradenton until May 16. Once he began pitching, he struggled all season, with a monthly ERA lower than 6.75 only in June (plus one scoreless September start). The fundamental problem was poor command. Even in outings in which he got good results, he often had to depart early due to high pitch counts. Even though he made three more starts than the previous year, he threw three fewer innings. All of his numbers were bad; he walked too many, struck out too few, and allowed hitters to bat .309 against him. Heredia was eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season, but wasn’t added to the roster or selected.
For the first time, Heredia was able to pitch a full season. The Pirates moved him to the bullpen in Bradenton and he had two distinctly different seasons. The first one ran through the end of June and he was very successful, mainly as a closer. He had a 1.13 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He did it almost entirely with a sinking fastball that sat around 94. His command came and went, but much of the time he was very effective at driving the pitch down, making it extremely difficult for hitters to elevate. He allowed only three extra base hits in 132 plate appearances. After June, Heredia’s command disappeared. He had a 7.25 ERA and 2.24 WHIP, and walked 18 batters in 22.1 IP.
Heredia wasn’t able to pitch in spring training due to a medical issue, so he started the season in extended spring training. He joined Altoona at the end of April and spent the rest of the season in the bullpen there. He made strides from the previous year, but continued to have control issues. When he got his pitches over he was often difficult to elevate the ball against. He had a groundball rate of 50.3% and opponents slugged only .294 against him. At times, his fastball was in the mid-90s. Heredia made progress late in the season, walking only five in his last 15 innings. He had a big platoon split, allowing a .710 OPS to left-handed hitters and .512 to right-handed hitters.
Unless the Pirates add Heredia to the 40-man roster, he’ll become a free agent after the season. He clearly still has a lot of ability and could conceivably become very similar to Jared Hughes if his command takes a step forward. Still, it’s hard to see the Pirates adding him to the roster.
|2017: Minor League Contract|
|Signing Bonus: $2,600,000
MiLB Debut: 2011
MLB Debut: N/A
MiLB FA Eligible: 2017
MLB FA Eligible: N/A
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
Added to 40-Man: N/A
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
|August 19, 2010: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent with a $2,600,000 bonus.|