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Pirates sign Mexican pitcher Heredia for $2.6 million

The Pirates have paid $2.6 million to buy the rights to 16-year-old pitcher Luis Heredia from Veracruz of the Mexican League.

That shatters the franchise's international signing bonus record of $400,000, which went to Venezuelan outfielder Exicardo Cayones in 2008.

Baseball America ranked Heredia, a right-hander, the top international pitching prospect for 2010.

"Luis has a very natural feel to pitching with above-average movement on his ball," director of international scouting Rene Gayo said. "It's very rare to see a young man with this type of character, athletic ability and pitching potential."

The Pirates were among the top half-dozen teams, in terms of dollars spent on international signings in 2009. This year, they also will be among the leaders, according to GM Neal Huntington.

"The numbers this year are a little bit skewed because the Cuban market has really kind of blown up," Huntington said. "But in traditional international signings, we're still going to be among the top 10 clubs."

Heredia has not pitched in organized, pro league games in Mexico, but has stayed on a routine. This month, he pitched in the Japan Boys Tournament in Mazatlan, Mexico, and racked up eight strikeouts in five innings with a 94 mph fastball.

"It was the first time he'd faced (players in) his age group in a long time," Huntington said. "He's been pitching against older players, although the competition level hasn't been great.

"It will be great to get him back into facing players who are older than him. But now it will be professionals that are two, three or four years older than he is. We believe he will be able to hold his own, but we've got to put him in position to develop properly."

The Pirates will send Heredia to the Florida Instructional League this fall and then to an instructional league in the Dominican Republic.

Heredia will not be old enough to play in the minors until next summer. He will attend minor league spring training camp in 2011, then get more tutoring in extended spring training. When he's old enough, Heredia could begin his pro career in rookie ball in Bradenton, Fla.

Sanchez still recovering

Catcher Tony Sanchez, the Pirates' top pick last season, is recovering a bit slower than expected from a broken jaw. Sanchez is doing what Huntington termed only as "basic baseball activity."

After a recent exam, a doctor did not clear Sanchez for game activity because his jaw remains too unstable and could not be adequately protected with a facemask. Still, Huntington did not rule out the possibility of Sanchez playing again for High-A Bradenton before this summer is over.

"We're hoping they make the playoffs," Huntington said. "If they extend their season, there's still a chance."

Huntington added that the Pirates are trying to get permission from MLB for Sanchez to play in the Arizona Fall League.

Cedeno still out

Shortstop Ronny Cedeno missed his eighth straight start Thursday due to a sore shoulder. But it seems the Pirates are willing to wait out a couple more days — keeping him available as a pinch-runner — rather than put Cedeno on the disabled list. "Before, there was like a clicking in (the shoulder) when I moved my arm," Cedeno said. "That's not there anymore. I feel good today."

They'll manage

First base coach Carlos Garcia and bullpen coach Luis Dorante will manage in the Venezuelan Winter League. Pitching coach Ray Searage will be on Garcia's staff. Huntington hopes the presence of his coaches will encourage more Pirates players — especially those at the major league level — to play winter ball this year.

"It's an environment that we cannot recreate in the minor leagues," Huntington said. "It's play well or go home. It's big, energetic crowds. It's close to the major league environment."

Nutting news

Principal owner Bob Nutting attended first-round draft pick Jameson Taillon's news conference yesterday but did not talk with reporters. He and team president Frank Coonelly addressed a pregame Q&A session with season ticket-holders.

Additional Information:

Pirates game day

vs. Mets

7:05 p.m., PNC Park

TV/radio : FSN Pittsburgh/WPGB-FM (104.7), XM Channel 184

Pitchers : RHP Mike Pelfrey (11-7, 3.95) will start for New York. RHP Jeff Karstens (2-9, 4.57) will start for the Pirates.

Of interest: Over his past 10 starts, Karstens has received a total of 16 runs of support.

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