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Pirates' prospect Heredia given room to grow

| Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 1:14 a.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
State College pitcher Luis Heredia runs onto the field during the opening day ceremony Tuesday, June 19, 2012, at Penn State's Medlar Field.

UNIVERSITY PARK — It seemed odd that the Pirates would have a 6-foot-6, 237-pound shortstop playing for their short-season Single-A State College club.

Luis Heredia stuck out on the infield Tuesday, lumbering as he scooped grounders out of the dirt. His footwork was ... um, not very nimble.

“He's an enormous guy,” State College catcher Jacob Stallings said. “He's the biggest 17-year-old I've ever seen.”

Don't worry. The right-hander, whom Baseball America rated the fifth-best prospect in the Pirates' farm system, hasn't flamed out already. Heredia's infield follies were part of the pitchers' pregame warm-up routine.

Heredia will make his first start for State College on Thursday. Still two months from his 18th birthday, he is the youngest player in the New York-Penn League this season and the youngest to ever play for the Spikes.

“I'm very happy, and I'm ready for this opportunity,” Heredia said. “I played against older players (as an amateur in Mexico), so I feel that I am ready to compete here.”

The Pirates signed Heredia in August 2010 for $2.6 million. Last year, he pitched in 12 games for Bradenton in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

The NYPL will offer new challenges: night games, bigger ballparks, tougher competition. But general manager Neal Huntington didn't hesitate to assign Heredia to State College.

“He's ready to take on an older hitter who is going to make him throw strikes and not chase the breaking ball out of the zone,” Huntington said. “There will be bumps along the way. He might have some one-inning starts and some six-inning masterpieces. We're looking forward to continuing his learning process.”

Heredia said he'll focus on refining his mechanics and upgrading his changeup, which probably is the weakest weapon in his dazzling six-pitch arsenal.

“Fastball command is what we're trying to get him to focus on,” Huntington said. “That's what's going to allow him to be successful. We're not taking pitches away, but we want to emphasize fastball command, consistency of the breaking ball and use of the changeup. He's going to be allowed to use his other pitches. But our emphasis is going to be on the basic foundation pitches.”

Although he's got a 99 mph fastball and a couple million bucks, Heredia fits in well in the State College clubhouse.

“My dream is to play at PNC Park,” Heredia said. “I'm working hard every day to be able to do that.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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