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Dazzling debut for Heredia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He won't be 19 until August, but Power right-hander Luis Heredia already stands 6-foot-6, weighs 243 pounds and throws a consistent 94-mph fastball.

Given baseball's current obsession with radar-gun readings and impressive strikeout totals, Heredia seems to fit the high-velocity prototype, a big and strong youngster who, one assumes, eventually will develop into an overpowering fastball practitioner.

But baseball, especially down here at the Class A level, is far too unpredictable for such generalizations.

Who knows what his max-out velocity will be a few years down the road or even if it will increase at all.

"It's hard to tell,'' said Power pitching coach Jeff Johnson. "I don't know. Some guys do, but it's hard to tell. I wouldn't even guess.''

Heredia, a native of Mazatlan, Mexico, made his South Atlantic League debut Sunday afternoon at Appalachian Power Park and, in addition to the 94-mph fastballs, demonstrated finesse in pitching the Power to an 8-0 victory over the Lakewood BlueClaws.

On the game's first pitch, he delivered a strike at 93 mph and proceeded to handle himself admirably, mixing in "16 or 17 changeups'' and allowing just one hit, striking out five and walking four in five innings to pick up the victory.

It was the kind of effort that seemed to fit his projection as the ninth-best prospect, and fourth-best pitching prospect behind Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham in the Pittsburgh organization, according to BaseballAmerica.com.

The Pirates were impressed enough with Heredia's potential to give him a $2.6 million signing bonus shortly after his 16th birthday in 2010.

Among his attributes in Sunday's debut was poise.

"I was emotional. I was not nervous,'' said Heredia, who already has a leg up on conquering a second language. "I came in with the mentality to compete and get outs. I was feeling really good.''

For now at least, the possibility of increased velocity is not a priority. Already boding well for his future are his curve and changeup, complemented by a fastball that is above average.

"He's got feel,'' said Johnson. "He can throw the off-speed pitches over the plate and even expand the strike zone some. The key for him is to get ahead in the count and stay ahead. He's got enough fastball for sure. But his ability to pitch is what's going to separate him, not just get out there and chuck it and throw it.''

Said Power manager Mike Ryan, "I liked the way he was working on his off-speed pitches. He's known as a power guy, and he wanted to show everyone he had the breaking ball and the changeup. He kept their hitters off-balance, and it made his fastball look a little bit harder than what it was. I thought he did a great job.''

He needs work, however, on throwing consistent strikes.

"Today wasn't very good in that regard,'' said Johnson. "In the first two or three innings, he was behind in the count too much.''

Right fielder Walker Gourley, who's kept his average above .300 since late April, scored four runs, going 3-for-4 with an RBI to raise his average to .336. Shortstop Max Moroff was also 3-for-4 as part of a 13-hit attack.

POWER POINTS: Heredia spent the season's first two-and-a-half months in extended spring training in Bradenton, Fla. ... The Power, which will play host to Hagerstown in a three-game series beginning tonight, has won three straight and is 3-1 in the season's second half. ... The Power's average attendance through Saturday night was 2,214 to rank 10th in the 14-team SAL. The team averaged about 2,400 for the season last year. Sunday's paid crowd of 1,075. ... Greensboro leads with an average attendance of 5,405.

Reach Mike Whiteford at mikewhiteford@wvgazette.com.


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