Seattle Mariners outfielder Guillermo Heredia is one of the more obscure rookies in the major leagues in 2016. He may also end up being one of the most interesting ones. Let's take a look.
Heredia is from Cuba and signed with the Mariners as a free agent back in February for a major league contract worth $500,000. He wasn't considered among the elite Cuban talents available and information about him was sparse when he signed, reflected in this vague and short report that made it into the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book at the last minute:
Guillermo Heredia, OF, Seattle Mariners
Bats: R Throws: L HT: 5-10 WT: 180 DOB: January 31, 1991
The Mariners signed Heredia, a Cuban defector, in February 2016. He is renowned for his outfield defense, thanks to excellent range and a strong, accurate arm. Questions exist about his bat. He’s not a power hitter and his track record in Cuba was mixed. It is questionable whether he’ll hit enough to be a regular; ultimately he may be a defense-oriented reserve. Grade C.
Heredia played in Cuba from 2009 through 2013, hitting a composite .285/.376/.418 over 374 games, demonstrating good plate discipline and strong defense but lacking power or impact speed on the bases.
His profile has been similar in the United States. He opened with Double-A Jackson, hitting .293/.405/.376 with 36 walks and 32 strikeouts in 205 at-bats, then moved up to Triple-A Tacoma and hit .312/.378/.413 in 138 at-bats. Overall his line stands at .300/.395/.391 with 48 walks and 47 strikeouts in 343 at-bats. In the major leagues so far he's hit .241/.333/.345 with four walks and four strikeouts in 29 at-bats.
That's actually quite credible given the circumstances: adapting to a new culture and a new style of play while working off a lot of rust: he played just one game in 2014 and none at all in 2015, so he wasn't exactly fresh against live competition.
As anticipated he's showing quality defensive skills, demonstrating the range and arm strength to handle all three outfield positions, but honestly it is the bat that's most interesting to me. He has an unusual right/left split between hitting and throwing, often a red flag for scouts who prefer L/L, L/R, or R/R. If he hit from the left side it would be easier to slot him on a roster as a stereotypical fourth outfielder. Not having the frequent platoon edge makes that a bit more difficult but in his case it may not matter. His strike zone judgment has been very good and so far he's been an OBP threat against both left and right-handed pitching in the minors.
The main question now is power. At 5-10, 180, he's not a bruiser physically, but he did show an occasional spark of power in Cuba. His spray charts show power to the pull side right now. . .all five of his professional home runs this year were pulled to left field. . .but he generally lashes line drives all around the diamond which helped keep his batting average elevated in the minors.
I'm no expert on swing mechanics, but my guess is that Heredia may develop more distance power as he gets into his late 20s. Even if that doesn't happen, his combination of defense and OBP ability should keep him in the picture somewhere; at a minimum he was a bargain at $500,000.