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Pitching prospect Heredia is hoping stature grows in Pirates' system

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Luis Heredia works out Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Luis Heredia works out Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Luis Heredia received a $2.6 million bonus when he signed as an international free agent in 2010.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Luis Heredia always seemed to have a body that was too big — and a fastball that was too fast — for his age.

In 2011, the Pirates gave Heredia a $2.6 million bonus to sign as a precocious 16-year-old out of Mazatlan, Mexico. He already stood 6-foot-6 and lit up the radar gun at 96 mph during a Gulf Coast League game.

“Sometimes, people told me, ‘You're a young guy. You can't compete with bigger guys,' ” Heredia said. “I told them, ‘I don't care. I have the ball in my hand, so I'm going to throw it.' ”

However, Heredia's first three seasons in the minors have been a bumpy ride. These days, he's a little bit smaller and his fastball is a little bit slower than when he debuted.

And that could turn out to be a very good thing for his career.

When Heredia reported to spring training last year, he weighed 276 pounds. When he checked into Pirate City this week for minicamp, Heredia was slimmer.

“I lost almost 40 pounds,” Heredia said, smiling. “I'm at 240 right now. I eat better and take care of myself. I feel good. I dress differently, too. I had a 42 (waist), and now I'm a 36.”

Heredia's weight gain was a byproduct of his struggles as a teenager adapting to American culture and the lifestyle of a minor leaguer. There were a lot of late nights, long bus rides and fast-food meals.

“It's different, playing at night,” Heredia said. “It's different, playing in (short-season Class A) State College and (Low-A) West Virginia. All the teams have bigger, stronger guys. Nothing is easy right now.”

The Pirates kept a close eye on their prodigy.

“Being a young kid thrown in that type of situation, you've got to give him a lot of credit,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “He matured real quick. It was almost like a forced maturity. Here he is in a foreign county, doing all these different things and trying to get both languages nailed down. He's grown up.”

Heredia's physical growth messed with his mechanics, and he began overstriding in his delivery. Early last season, when he was with West Virginia, his fastball wasn't so fast anymore — a more hittable 86 mph. Even more troubling, he had trouble finding the strike zone.

“The speed will come. It's about command and control,” Heredia said. “The mechanics. Now, I'm staying back and throwing the ball easier.”

After dropping weight and repairing his mechanics, Heredia is eager to take another step forward this season. He's optimistic he can earn a spot with High-A Bradenton.

“It's been fun to watch a 16-year-old young man turn into a 19-year-old young man who has taken some great strides,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “He still has steps to take, but recognize where he would be if he was an American. He'd just have been draft-eligible last year and would have been in the Gulf Coast League last year.

“For those who are worried about him, remember that he's been around a long time, but he's still just 19 this year. We're still excited about him. A big, powerful body. A hard-working young man who's growing up before our eyes.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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