Pirates agree to terms with Mexican pitcher Heredia
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The Pirates early this morning agreed to terms with 16-year-old pitching prospect Luis Heredia of Mexico on a $2.6 million bonus, the biggest payout in franchise history for an international amateur.
In Mexico, the team owning the players' rights keeps 75 percent of the bonus -- Veracruz, in Heredia's case -- with the other 25 percent going to the player. Heredia passed a team-prescribed physical, all aspects of the agreement were completed, and a formal signing ceremony has been planned for early next week in Mazatlan, Mexico, Heredia's hometown.
That $2.6 million, plus the $8.75 million paid to top two draft picks Jameson Taillon ($6.5 million) and Stetson Allie ($2.25 million) earlier in the week, means the team will have paid a total of $11.35 million to add three elite teenaged right-handers to the system.
The previous high for the Pirates in the international amateur market was $400,000 for Venezuelan outfielder Exicardo Cayones in July 2008.
The Mexican Baseball League began allowing Veracruz to entertain offers after midnight Wednesday. Several other Major League Baseball teams had pursued Heredia, but the Pirates long ago established a firm relationship with the player, his family and the Veracruz officials who had the final say. Moreover, by all accounts, the Pirates' offer was competitive.
Heredia, 6 feet 6, 185 pounds, is considered by many scouts to be the best pitching prospect his country has produced in years. He turned 16 -- the age at which major-league teams can sign international players -- on Aug. 10, but the Mexican League sought a delay on offers for Heredia until after the majors' deadline to sign drafted players passed early Tuesday.
No significant statistics are available on Heredia, largely because the Pirates advised his activity over the past year and he pitched mostly in exhibitions each Sunday.
The highlight of Heredia's scouting report, according to Rene Gayo, the Pirates' Latin American scouting director, is unusually high velocity for his age -- 92-93 mph on his fastball -- and equally uncommon coordination for someone who sprouted so tall at a young age. He throws four other pitches, all but the slider currently seen as above-average.
In an interview with the Post-Gazette last Thursday in Mazatlan, Gayo had expressed guarded optimism that an agreement would be struck, even though the high-spending New York Yankees were among the most aggressive of the other pursuers.
"We believe in the work that we've done, we believe in the commitment we've gotten from back in Pittsburgh, and we believe, most of all, in Luis," Gayo said then. "The day it gets done will be a great day for the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Gayo's confidence was founded partly in the team's offer being competitive but mostly in having forged close ties with Heredia and Veracruz.
On the player level: Jesus "Chino" Valdez, the Pirates' Mexican scouting supervisor, had known Heredia since he was 5 and became like a father figure to him in recent years. Valdez spent roughly three-quarters of his time in the past year working directly with Heredia, and Gayo, too, spent extensive time in western Mexico.
On the team level: Gayo has known Jose Antonio Mansur, owner of Veracruz, for two decades. And it was Gayo who accompanied Heredia through the process of having his amateur rights purchased by Veracruz on the first day eligible -- Jan. 1 of this year -- with an understanding that the Pirates ultimately wished to buy those rights away.
In Mazatlan, Heredia and his mother, Maria de Jesus Orosco, spoke glowingly of Gayo and Valdez.
"Thank God they came into my life," Heredia said last Thursday through a translator. "They're good men, honest men."
Asked how much he knew about the Pirates, Heredia laughed and replied, "Just Roberto Clemente."
Gayo said at the time that, if Heredia were signed, he likely would report to the Pirates' rookie fold in Bradenton, Fla., rather than the team's new baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, as Heredia spent most of his amateur career competing against players 3-4 years older. That decision will be made by general manager Neal Huntington and director of player development Kyle Stark.
First Published August 19, 2010 6:36 am