Prospect Pitch: Heredia and his help

Bucs' tall teen righty, State College coach work on repertoire

By Andrew Pentis / Special to | August 15, 2012 6:00 AM ET

Paciencia en la caja.

These are the words that Class A Short-Season State College pitching coach Justin Meccage most often shares with Pirates fifth-ranked prospect Luis Heredia. The phrase translates literally to, "Patience in the box," but in Pitcher's English, it's really, "Preparation on top." Meccage is telling Heredia, in the latter's native tongue, to match his contorting 6-foot-6 body with the pace of his speed-balling arm.

Paciencia en la caja.

"The biggest thing is his effort, being 17 and getting paid a lot of money to throw hard," said the Montana-born Meccage, who coincidentally pronounces his name Message. "The effort level, trying to control it, is something I remind him of. When he's up and flat [in the strike zone] and he's getting hit, it's because the effort level is a little high and things in his delivery happen later than normal."

Paciencia en la caja.

Consider: Two years ago next Friday -- on Aug. 24, 2010 -- Heredia received a $2.6 million bonus to leave his home in Mazatlan, Mexico, and join Pittsburgh's farm system. And last Friday -- on Aug. 10 -- he turned 18.

Somehwere, Nathan Eovaldi is nodding along.

Paciencia en la caja.

"It depends on the situation, whether I really want him to get the point or whether I want him to learn in it English," said Meccage, who also instructed Heredia in 2011 extended spring training and is in his second season at State College. "Usually, when I go visit him on the mound, I speak to him in Spanish just to be quick and have him understand it for sure. Off the field and in bullpens, it's English. He's very mature, and he tries like crazy to speak English." asked Heredia (3-1, 2.42 ERA in 10 Spikes starts) to describe the three pitches he makes, then called on Meccage to elaborate. Here they are -- Heredia and, in italics, Meccage -- in their own words.

Pitch one: Four-seam fastball

Purpose: When things are right, his fastball is downhill, very downhill. He's probably throwing 93 or 94 percent fastballs in each of his outings. When it's going good, at this level, he can get 'em out with that. He spends a lot of time getting ground balls when it's right.

In 2002 in the Yankees system, I played with Chien-Ming Wang. He was at one time a four-seam guy that threw downhill -- he didn't throw a sinker when he was 21 years old -- but it was 95 mph and downhill. He was very similar to Luis: big, physical guy, very talented and can get guys out with his fastball. I actually played him in this league, so it's very interesting to see.

Grip: Over the four seams.

Speed: 93-94 mph. Depends if it's a bad day, but more days I feel strong. I threw 97 one time.

Evaluation: He's going to be a very good power guy and probably throwing 90 percent fastballs his whole life, because his fastball is so good. For this stage, he does a nice job with command. We're tyring to get it down in the strike zone. That's No. 1, that's what we spend most of our time on to this point. As we move forward, being able to move it to both sides of the plate while keeping it down consistently -- he does do it on occasion -- is the next step.

Pitch two: Changeup

Origin: Growing up in Mexico, I saw pitchers on TV use their fastball and changeup. So I started throwing it then, but it wasn't good. Now I throw it everyday, part of our throwing program.

Origin: We do spend a lot of time in the daily throwing program with it, just to get comfortable throwing it. We throw it at 90 feet, so it's a little bit more than 60 feet, and that way he gets the arm-speed. After we work it out at 90 feet, on his way back in is when we spend the most time on it.

Purpose: When he throws it with arm-speed, it's got a little bit of sink-life to it. It's a nice to throw over for a strike, or a punchout against left-handed hitters.

Grip: Circle-change.

Speed: 82-84 mph.

Evaluation: I have a lot of confidence in it. It's my second-best pitch. I'm still working on it.

Pitch three: Curveball

Origin: I learned it in Mexico, from my coach, Hector Chavarria, when I was 15 years old. It was difficult to learn at first. It's a 12-to-6 break.

Purpose: His curveball is more of a strike pitch right now. He only throws two or three and no more than five per fame. What we are working on is the ability to strike guys out with the curveball. Developing the fastball is the first step and right behind that is the changeup -- especially for a power guy like him. As we progress, developing the curveball will be the next process.

Grip: With my index and middle fingers, two-seam curveball.

Speed: 78-79 mph.

Evaluation: It's pitch No. 3 for him. A lot of it mentality, that it can be a put-away pitch. In the future, as soon as when he gets to instructional league, you'll see him increase his hand speed, and that will bring sharper depth. Right now, it's a big-depth pitch -- it's really big -- and if we can shorten the depth and throw it with more fastball arm-speed and hand-speed, it will be sharper and smaller and it will become a strikeout pitch. Not this last outing but two outings ago, it was nice to see him bring it to the table with two strikes.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at AndrewMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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