Thursday, February 23, 2012

#4 Prospect - Luis Heredia

Under Neal Huntington, the Pirates haven't just been committed to adding amateur talent through the draft.  They have also become a bigger player in the international market recently.  It started in 2009 when the Pirates attempted to sign top international prospects SS/3B Miguel Sano.  Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful and he signed with the Twins after significant drama involving Sano's agent.  It was a big blow for the Pirates and their fans, but the front office responded admirably.  The following year, they again attempted to sign the top international prospect on the market.  This time they succeeded and pitcher Luis Heredia became a Pirate.

On August 19th, the Pirates officially inked Heredia - who had just turned 16 approximately a week earlier - for 2.6 million. Instead of negotiating with Heredia - who hails from the town of Mazatlan directly, the Pirates actually made the deal with Veracruz of the Mexican league. Veracruz got 75% of the bonus amount because they owned Heredia's rights and Heredia himself received the remaining 25%.  Pirates international scouting director Rene Gayo and Mexican scouting director Jesus "Chino" Valdez both had a strong relationship with both Veracruz and Heredia for years prior to Heredia's 16th birthday.  As such, the Pirates were long considered the favorites to sign the young Mexican pitcher and actually were able to help advise his development while pitching for Veracruz, where he mainly pitched in exhibitions.

As a teenager, Heredia already possessed an impressive pitch arsenal.  Prior to signing, his fastball already sat in the 88-91 range and touched 93, elite velocity for a 15 year-old.  A curveball and a changeup rounded out the young Mexican's arsenal of pitches, with the curveball being ahead of the changeup.  Both offerings were already incredibly advanced considering Heredia's age and project as plus or better future pitches.  The future is obviously what matters most and that's what makes Heredia an elite prospect.  At the time of signing, he already towered at 6'6, but only weighed 180 lbs.  Young enough to still grow, Heredia has incredible projectability and has room to add significant muscle which could result in even more velocity.

The Pirates decided to be aggressive with Heredia - although as advanced as he was, it wasn't that surprising - and bring him stateside to bring his professional career.  Assigned to the GCL Pirates, Heredia started his first game on June 21st.  The young pitcher lasted 2.2 innings, facing 14 batters, walking 3, and giving up 1 hit and 2 earned runs, while striking out none.  Not exactly a stellar debut, but for Heredia, simply pitching to gain experience and staying healthy easily trumps putting up eye-opening numbers.  The Pirates were careful with Heredia for the rest of the year and he only pitched 30.1 innings.  In those innings, he only managed 23 strikeouts while walking 19 batters and giving up hits to 28.  His groundball-to-flyball ratio was 1.09 as well..  Again, not eye-popping numbers by any means, but Heredia ended the year healthy and scouting reports on him were exciting, two occurrences that were more important than numerical results.

Speaking of scouting reports, Heredia touched as high as 96 with his fastball and generally sat in the 92-93 range.  That's incredibly impressive for a kid who hadn't yet turned seventeen.  Heredia also showed a curveball with significant potential.  The pitch already showed a propensity to induce swings-and-misses although it lacks consistency.  Heredia's changeup is also very advanced for his age and offers plenty of projection.  Overall, Heredia offers unfathomable potential and might have the highest ceiling in the Pirates system.  He also has a huge chance of flaming out due to his age, but honestly King Felix ceiling comparisons aren't that unfounded.  That's why Heredia's my #4 Pirates prospect.