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International Free Agent Profile: Cuban center fielder Guillermo Heredia

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Heredia possesses an excellent glove but a suspect bat. Could the Cuban center fielder be a possible target for the Mets?

Guillermo Heredia
Guillermo Heredia
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Guillermo Heredia Jr. was born on January 31, 1991, in Matanzas, the capital of the Cuban province bearing the same name. Baseball is in Heredia's blood, as his father is Guillermo Heredia Sr., an outfielder with a career .296/.384/.357 batting line during his eleven-year baseball career.

Growing up in the "City of Bridges," Guillermo Jr. refined his baseball skills to the point that he was good enough to make the Cuban national junior team. After an impressive performance in the 18U World Championships in 2009, he was rostered by Cocodrilos for the 2009-2010 season (the 49th Serie Nacional de Beisbol). Though the team did not have a particularly successful season—finishing with a 33-57 record that year—the 18-year-old Heredia did. The rookie batted .290/.331/.407 in 159 plate appearances; his .738 OPS ranked eighth on the team among players with at least 150 plate appearances.

Heredia appeared in 81 games during the 2010-2011 season (the 50th Serie Nacional de Beisbol), but his offensive ability took a hit from his rookie year, as the sophomore hit a paltry .235/.290/.343 in 260 plate appearances. Manager Victor Mesa's faith in the youngster was rewarded during the 2011-2012 season (the 51st Serie Nacional de Beisbol), when Heredia rebounded from his previous subpar season and posted the best numbers of his career. In a season in which the pitcher's mound was raised to a height of 15 inches, the 21-year-old batted .343/.439/.527 in 443 plate appearances over 96 games, a major reason why the Cocodrilos finished the national competition atop the West Division with a 58-38 record. Heredia led the team in batting average among qualified players, was third in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage, and third in OPS, while leading the league in runs scored. He was named an All-Star, and won a Gold Glove for his performance in center field.

Heredia won his second Gold Glove for his performance during the 2012-2013 season, but his offense regressed a bit. He hit an acceptable .265/.381/.384, but in the situation the center fielder found himself in, acceptable was not good enough. A teenage phenom, Victor Mesa Jr., had been rostered by the Cocodrilos and cut into Heredia's playing time in center. Manager Victor Mesa tried to slide Heredia into right field, but that position was crowded as well, with outfielders Yadiel Hernandez and Ariel Sanchez already splitting time there. Mesa did his best to accommodate Heredia, but giving at-bats to his teenage son came first on his agenda.

With a number of prominent outfielders either having already defected from Cuba or having been suspended, Heredia found himself as the Cuban national team's starting outfielder during the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In Cuba's first game in the competition, he drew a leadoff walk against Team Brazil pitcher Andre Rienzo, but otherwise went 0-for-4. In Cuba's second game, a 12-0 victory over Team China, he went 2-for-4 with a walk. In Cuba's third game, a 6-3 victory over Japan, Heredia went 0-for-3 and struck out swinging against a Masahiro Tanaka splitter. In Cuba's fourth game, a 6-2 loss to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, he went 1-for-3. In Cuba's fifth game, a 14-0 route of Taiwan, he went 0-for-2 and was hit by a pitch. Finally, in Cuba's sixth game, a narrow 7-6 loss to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Heredia again went 0-for-2. All in all, the center fielder hit .167/.318/.167 in 18 at-bats.

The Gold Glover continued regressing in the 2013-2014 season: In the 53rd Serie Nacional de Beisbol, he hit .255/.376/.349 in 61 games, the lowest single-season total of his career.

If Heredia's 2014-2015 season can be summed up in one word, it would be "brief." Once again the starting center fielder for Matanzas, he hit a single in the bottom of the second in his first plate appearance of the year. When his team took the field the next inning, Heredia was no longer in the game. After conflicting reports as to why he had been removed from the game—some sources claimed he had injured his back while others claimed he had requested his release from the team—Cuban baseball commissioner Heriberto Suarez confirmed that the center fielder had been suspended, receiving a four-year ban. Days later, Heredia was confirmed to have left the country in order to pursue a contract with a major league team.

Heredia established permanent residency in April 2015, and was declared a free agent a few months later, on July 3rd. Because of his age and experience in Cuba, Heredia is exempt from the international bonus pool rules that apply to younger, less experienced players. Instead, any interested team can sign him directly.

Year Age G PA AVG OBP SLG HR BB K SB
2010-2011 (50th SNdB) 19 81 260 .235 .290 .343 4 19 32 3/10
2011-2012 (51st SNdB) 20 96 443 .343 .439 .527 10 51 38 3/10
2012-2013 (52nd SNdB) 21 68 298 .265 .381 .384 6 34 21 10/15
2013-2014 (53rd SNdB) 22 61 239 .255 .376 .349 1 27 23 4/8
2014-2015 (54th SNdB) 23 1 1 1.000 1.000 1.000 0 0 0 0

Heredia is generally considered a subpar offensive player. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, the outfielder "has a quick bat, keeps his hands short to the ball and stays within the strike zone. Heredia isn't a big swing-and-miss guy, but he doesn't do much damage when he does connect. He doesn't load his swing, often opening his hips early, lunging at the ball and pushing the bat, with doubles power and a lot of groundballs." Heredia had been a switch-hitter for the majority of his career. However, during the 53rd Serie Nacional de Beisbol, he gave up hitting from the left side, making him a left-handed thrower and right-handed hitter—something rare for non-pitchers.

Defensively, on the other hand, Heredia shines. He gets excellent reads off of the bat and covers a tremendous amount of ground in the outfield thanks to his above-average speed, and quick reaction time and first step. He has a strong arm as well—strong enough to play right field, though some scouts feel that he needs to work on his throwing accuracy.

Due to his age and experience, it can reasonably be expected that Heredia will be assigned to either the upper levels of the minor leagues or directly to an MLB club. For him to be more than a second-division starter, or a fourth outfielder, or a minor league filler, he will have to make improvements at the plate.