Luis Heredia’s Goal is to Finish the 2015 Season in Altoona

Luis Heredia hasn’t had the best results in his time in West Virginia the last two years. In 2013, he came into Spring Training out of shape, which led to him missing half of the season due to conditioning, when that would have normally been his first full season at the same level. Last year he was in much better shape, and went back to West Virginia to get a full season at the same level. However, he ended up missing two months with a shoulder injury, and only threw 89 innings.

The results also weren’t great in either season. He put up a good ERA in 2013, but that was paired with a very high walk rate. The walks went down in 2014, but the strikeouts also took a huge drop, and the overall numbers struggled.

It seems unlikely that the Pirates will send Heredia to West Virginia for a third season. When I talked to Heredia a few weeks ago, he said he didn’t know his assignment for the season. However, he has a goal for 2015, no matter where he starts.

“[Finishing in Altoona] is my goal,” Heredia said. “I don’t care if I play [in Bradenton] or West Virginia.”

Heredia struggled with the numbers last year, but when you look deeper, you get a different story. Like a lot of pitchers who have gone through West Virginia in recent years, he struggled in the first half, and had success at the end of the season. He had a 4.86 ERA in 53.2 innings through the month of July. That included a 22:26 K/BB ratio. In the month of August, everything came together for him. He had a 3.06 ERA in 35.1 innings, with a 21:7 K/BB ratio.

Going beyond the numbers, you get a bit more of the story. The Pirates changed Heredia’s mechanics heading into the 2014 season. They lowered his arm slot from what was more of an overhand slot, to a three-quarters slot. This was to add more control by giving Heredia the same arm slot for all three pitches, and a slot that he would have an easier time repeating. If you look at his month-by-month numbers, you’ll see a gradual improvement.

Month

PA

BB

BB%

June

108

14

13.0%

July

107

10

9.3%

August

146

7

4.8%

As noted above, he also finished the year with 21 strikeouts in August. That was an improvement over July, when he had just three strikeouts. It was also an overall improvement over June, when he had the same strikeout rate, but paired with a lot of walks. Heredia came into pro ball with a 12-to-6 curveball that worked in the mid-70 MPH range. The Pirates started having him throw a slurve in 2012, had him use the pitch more in 2013, and when he fully changed to a three-quarter arm slot, that became his breaking pitch. He is still learning the pitch, and needs to develop it into more of an out pitch.

Heredia was once one of the top prospects in the system, but dropped this year to number 20 in our rankings. As far as the tiered rankings go, he’d be in the same class as guys who were ranked as high as 14th overall. That tier includes recently drafted prep pitchers Trey Supak and Gage Hinsz. And that seems appropriate for Heredia, since he is now closer to a projectable prep pitcher than a strong bet to be a future ace.

There has been a lot written in the past about how Heredia can touch the upper 90s. That’s true, but he has no control in that range, forcing the Pirates to slow him down. He worked in the 90-93 MPH range last year, touching 94, and considering he will be 20 for most of the 2015 season, there’s still a chance he could add velocity. However, unlike most pitchers his age, adding weight and filling out his frame isn’t a focus. Instead, the focus the last two years has been taking off weight.

Heredia lost 40 pounds prior to the 2014 season, after weighing close to 280 pounds in 2013. He said that he lost eight more pounds this off-season.

“Not really easy, but not hard too,” Heredia said of maintaining his weight. “Just keeping it consistent in how I do everything. Keep the bad food away, eat healthy. That’s what I need.”

There could be more velocity in the future, especially if Heredia gets used to throwing from the new power arm slot. But the more important thing is continuing the trend of lowering his walks, which will help him a lot more than a few extra MPH. Another added benefit is that the new arm slot should help him avoid shoulder problems going forward.

“I feel a lot better. I feel more healthy when I throw,” Heredia said of the new slot.

Just like a projectable prep pitcher, Heredia needs to improve the quality of his secondary stuff. The slurve still needs work, and the hope would be that last August was the start of everything coming together with that pitch, rather than just one good month. Heredia also worked on the changeup last year. He had issues with the pitch, trying to throw it slower, instead of letting the grip do the work. That’s when he got some advice from West Virginia pitching coach Jeff Johnson.

“J.J. told me just throw it like a fastball, and it was much better after that,” Heredia said. The changeup should be thrown from the fastball arm slot, with the fastball arm speed, and the main difference is that the different grip slows it down. Once Heredia learned that, he saw improvements with the pitch, and that pitch will be a bigger focus in 2015.

It seems like Heredia has been in the system forever, which makes it easy to forget that he’s only 20-years-old. It’s very likely that he will start the year in Bradenton. To put that in perspective, 2014 prep pitchers Mitch Keller, Trey Supak, and Gage Hinsz will all turn 19 in the first half of the 2015 season. Their optimistic timelines would have them pitching in short-season ball in 2015, West Virginia in 2016, and Bradenton in 2017, when they turn 21.

Heredia is age-appropriate for his projected level, and will probably even be one of the youngest players in the league if he goes to Bradenton. The perspective here is that he is far from a finished product. That seems disappointing, since the expectations coming into pro ball were that Heredia would be a project at a younger age, and would more polished by this point. But the reality is that he’s a guy who had a mechanical overhaul, and has had less than a full season with those new mechanics, while still being at a very young age.

There is still a chance Heredia could be a strong pitching prospect. Right now he’s more of a project than he was projected to be a few years ago. If he continues the strides that he made at the end of the 2014 season, with lower walk rates and improving strikeout numbers, then he will be looking less like a project at the end of the 2015 season. And he might even realize his goal to finish the year in Altoona.

  • FWIW – he will be Rule V eligible next draft and will need to be rostered. I hope he continues to improve.

  • ““J.J. told me just throw it like a fastball, and it was much better after that,” Heredia said. The changeup should be thrown from the fastball arm slot, with the fastball arm speed, and the main difference is that the different grip slows it down. Once Heredia learned that, he saw improvements with the pitch, and that pitch will be a bigger focus in 2015.”

    It took four years to figure out the most basic instruction on throwing a changeup?

    Sheesh.

    • Lee Foo Young
      February 5, 2015 8:40 pm

      It took me twenty years just to figure out something someone told me at his age. Teenagers tend to be dumb. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Did you ever coach players in their mid teens ? I did, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Getting young athletes to grasp a concept like that is invariably difficult.

      • Legion ball back in the mid-’00s.

        • And you are surprised that it took Heredia to grasp that concept ? You must have had a roster of kids with superior instincts for the game is all I can say then.

  • “The Pirates changed Heredia’s mechanics heading into the 2014 season.”
    This is the reason you can’t tell how minor league players are going to turn out by their minor league numbers, this guy could be a very productive pitcher for the Pirates. Minor league players go through so many changes from one year to the other, maturation, mechanics and physical changes, tough to put them into lists or categories. IMO, this pitcher is going to be a good one.

    • That would be true if any scouts agreed, but any time he gets mentioned the reports are awful. Seems like you are banking on blind faith.

      • Many minor league players are blind faith, what I am banking on is his talent level and the fact that the Pirates finally figured out that changes were needed instead of just moving him to the junk pile as some scouts figure he ought to be and also the fact that the changes did make a difference, albeit a small sample size.

        • I do hope you end up being correct, but I see a kid who peaked early and has done nothing but get worse as a professional.

  • Once he gets his mechanics and pitches down there shouldn’t be any reason why he can’t increase his velocity and become at least a #3 or better and he has 5 yrs. to do that.

    • No reason, except the exceedingly small chance that reaches the exceptionally unlikely ceiling as a #3 SP. Guys who don’t miss bats in A ball and get hit around that much don’t often turn into MLB SP let alone quality ones. His FIP was over 5 last year, dividing his season into tiny samples isn’t going to fix that. Its not like he is still 16, the age excuse is pretty much gone and his body type has zero positive projection. Tim mentions several 19 year olds that have projectible frames, its not really a fair comp. That was a knock on Luis the day we signed him; not really having much projection physically. Hey, I’d love to see a miraculous turn around, but he looks nothing like a prospect at this point. Maybe he is a guy that can go to the pen and be a 7th inning type with better velocity. I’ll be interested to see if he even gets mentioned in Kiley McDaniel’s system overview. He likely will at the bottom for the same reason we still mention him (contract).

      • Tetrapharmakos
        February 5, 2015 3:18 pm

        This is all projection, so there is an accepted variance in outcomes, but I’d wager the median outcome is between those two extremes. Maybe, closer to your pessimism, because he is a pitcher and there is a non-zero chance of his arm falling off, but it feels a bit unfair to draw such a strong conclusion from <90 innings worth of FIP. I know, I know, it is more than just 90 innings, but… consider 1) shoulder injury 2) mechanical adjustments and 3) the organizational approach w/r/t fastball command and pitching to contact in the minor leagues and then it becomes easier to ignore the surface results. You can say age is not an excuse, but he is still young for his level.

        That is not me preaching roses, rainbows and unicorns – his star has definitely fallen the last couple of years – as mentioned in the article – but a good, full season or 2 and he could be a 22-23 year old on the verge of joining the big league club. He is an unusual case – Tim mentions 19 year old comps in the context of demonstrating how far behind they are in terms of level – so I'd argue that "guys who don't miss bats in A ball…" isn't a fair comp either. We'll see. There is a reasonable chance he doesn't amount to anything at the MLB level, but I'd like to see what he can do over a full, healthy season before I get out my crystal ball and start predicting the future.

        • A lot of good points, but I will take objection to the K rate issue. Guys destined for MLB strike out batters in the low minors almost invariably. Even Zach Duke had a 8-9K/9 in A ball. 4/9IP is just awful and makes me think his “stuff” isn’t fooling anyone, adjustments or not. For him to be a MLB SP he needs a fastball that can get by hitters with velocity and/or movement. It just isn’t showing up these days.

          • Tetrapharmakos
            February 6, 2015 1:00 pm

            Thanks. To be clear, you are probably correct, but my only push back to that is “results” are less important that “process” for young players in the low minors. We have no way of knowing if the low K% is because he doesn’t have the native skills, or if he was playing through injury, or if he was being challenged by the coaches/org to work on mechanics, or to throw/develop particular pitches in particular spots that he was uncomfortable with. Maybe they told him: “Don’t try to strike guys out. Just work on locating your fastball in the zone…” That wouldn’t be all that surprising, really. In other words, the lackluster could have a reasonable explanation that would not preclude him improving those results in the future, even as he moves up levels. I agree the results are not encouraging – in fact that are discouraging – but I don’t think they are the death knell you are suggesting.

            • I would feel better about the approach excuse if there were good examples of guys being so bad in this regard in A ball then becoming something much better as pros.

              • Tetrapharmakos
                February 6, 2015 1:26 pm

                Rick Porcello struck out ~5/9 in A ball at about the same age. And to be fair, Heredia struck out 7.6/9 at the same level the year before, so it is not like he is incapable of striking out more.

                • Cool, thanks for that, it is hard to find names at random and I’m not great with BR’s play index. Perhaps there is some comparable stuff there as Porcello was also 19 at that level. Of course he had much better results though.

                  • Tetrapharmakos
                    February 6, 2015 2:12 pm

                    No problem. To be honest, I’m just looking at last years WAR leaderboards and looking at minor league stats of guys with low K/9. Wade Miley also had a 5.6 k/9 at high A with a 4.08 FIP and he was 24 at the time. So, I don’t know, these guys are clearly outliers, but it is not impossible.

  • William Wallace
    February 5, 2015 1:42 pm

    Does anyone know if PP updates their rankings during the season? I was curious if a couple guys have bust out seasons and jump a level do they get re-ranked?

    • We do a new ranking shortly after the draft each year, so it’s twice and year that we update rankings. If someone loses their prospect status during the season, then we take them off the list and add whoever was #21

  • Like any Pirates fan, I’m hopeful that Luis Heredia can fulfill his potential, but I think it’s telling that Huntington offered him up in a trade offer last year: http://18.206.184.11/2014/06/pirates-offered-luis-heredia-and-a-comp-pick-for-bud-norris.html. It might indicate that they are less optimistic now than several years ago.

    • I would not be afraid to bet that that Huntington offered up a whole lot more than Heredia last year at the trade deadline for a couple of players the Pirates were rumored to be after, Price being one of them.

      • zombie sluggo
        February 5, 2015 5:44 pm

        I’m happy the Bucs didn’t end up getting Price, because that likely means they wouldn’t have had the cash to re-sign Frankie. We’d have Price for this year (which would be cool) but no Frankie for the next 3. Plus, IMHO, Frankie can be a just as dominant, if not more so, than Price. Price is just a more reliable.

  • Heredia still very very young – lots of upside. Still lots of time to be a strong pitching prospect in the organization. Patience is a virtue.

  • Lee Foo Young
    February 5, 2015 1:06 pm

    I’ve said it before…anything positive we get out of him will be a bonus. If you forget about how touted he was, etc, he is now ‘what he is’. A mid to high-20s prospect who could maybe make the MLB club. No different from any other prospect at that current level.

    He may yet make it and be useful, but he appears to no longer be a guy to ‘dream on’?

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