Coveted Mexican hurler signs with Bucs

Coveted Mexican hurler signs with Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- Three days after spending $8.75 million to lock up two of the top high school pitchers available in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the Pirates added another teenage right-hander to the mix on Thursday.

During the Pirates' game with Florida on Thursday, the club announced its agreement to purchase the rights of 16-year-old Luis Heredia from the Veracruz Red Eagles team in Mexico. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed, though the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the signing bonus is worth $2.6 million.

That means that within 72 hours, Pittsburgh spent $11.35 million on three right-handed pitchers, the oldest of which just turned 19 in March.

"Sooner rather than later we need to translate that into better baseball at the Major League level, and we understand that," general manager Neal Huntington said, noting that this recent influx of young talent is only part of the equation. "But the process to get there is well under way. [Heredia] will be a great addition to go with [second-round Draft pick] Stetson [Allie] and [No. 2 overall selection] Jameson [Taillon] and the other guys from this year's Draft class."

While Taillon received the biggest bonus the Pirates have handed out to a Draft pick, the organization also spent unprecedented money to secure Heredia's rights. The $2.6 million bonus would be the largest the organization has given to an international amateur player, well surpassing the previous high of $400,000.

It also, Huntington said, ensures that the Pirates will again be among the top 10 spenders in the international market this year.

"We've faced a lot of criticism for not spending money internationally to fill the big, beautiful, new academy in the Dominican Republic," Huntington said. "In actuality, we were among the top six or seven in investments in international signings in '09. In our minds, much like in the Draft, it doesn't always come back to a signing bonus meaning success or a signing bonus meaning true commitment. It's how we allocate those dollars. Really, it's about the players that we get and not the signing bonuses."

The Pirates are excited about the player they got in Heredia. He turned 16 just over a week ago, and though he already stands at 6-foot-6, he probably isn't done growing. Heredia's fastball velocity has been clocked up to 92 mph -- already equal to the average Major League velocity -- and his long, wiry body has the Pirates projecting that he'll be able to increase his workload capacity as he grows.

Heredia possesses a good breaking ball and changeup. His easy arm action and delivery have the Pirates dreaming about how much his velocity could increase as his body fully matures. An expectation that his fastball will eventually sit in the mid-90s is by no means unreasonable.

"Luis has a very natural feel to pitching with above-average movement on his ball," said Rene Gayo, the Pirates' director of Latin American scouting. "It's very rare to see a young man with this type of character, athletic ability and pitching potential."

The Pirates had plenty of competition in the Heredia sweepstakes. The Blue Jays and Yankees were among the other teams reportedly interested, and it was ultimately up to the Veracruz team to decide where Heredia, who Baseball America ranked as the top international pitching prospect heading into 2010, would go. The Mexican Baseball League allowed Veracruz to begin taking offers after midnight on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh's advantage in the process came from Heredia's relationship with Pirates scout Jesus Valdez as well as Gayo. Valdez, the organization's scout assigned to Mexico, has known Heredia for years. The Pirates have also dealt with the Veracruz team in the past, so there was an established relationship there that helped out.

Not only did the relationships give the Pirates an upper hand in negotiations, but it also has the Pirates confident both in Heredia's age and ability.

"We have the advantage of knowing the family and the player from a very young age," Huntington said. "We've had a lot more background information on this Latin American player than we've ever had."

Heredia has recently pitched in some international competitions, though most of his action in Mexico has come against players many years older than he is.

The Pirates don't have a firm plan for where Heredia will start in the system, but Huntington said the right-hander's introduction to the organization will start with the fall instructional league in Bradenton, Fla. Heredia might also pitch in the Dominican Republic instructional league, which begins after its U.S. equivalent.

From there, Heredia will likely be invited to participate in Minor League spring camp and probably pitch in extended Spring Training until June. That's when the Pirates will determine if he will begin with one of the organization's Minor League affiliates in the U.S. or Latin America.

"He's been pitching against older players, but his competition hasn't been great," Huntington said. "He's done very well against his own age group. He's done well against an older age group. We believe that he'll be able to hold his own, but we've got to put him in position to develop professionally."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.