Once upon a time, Guillermo Heredia was a phenom in Cuba. A key cog with Serie Nacional since he was 18, he twice won Cuba’s version of the gold glove and was even the starting centerfielder on the Cuban team at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where Cuba was eliminated in the second round by the surprising Dutch.
But In 2015, the then 24-year old outfielder defected from Cuba, eventually joining the Seattle Mariner organization on a one year major league contract. He then made two brief stops in Jackson and Tacoma before making his Seattle debut in July 2016.
Baseball America lauded his defense, where they felt his his speed and above average arm would allow him to man all three outfield spot. As for his bat, they noted he was “an average hitter with little power who works counts and controls the strike zone well enough to consistently get on base.”
Fangraph’s Eric Longenhagen also profiled him as a fourth outfielder, praising his polished approach in the field while noting he had “fringey but playable bat speed” and a simple approach at the plate. “He’s unlikely to hit for any kind of power but, with his solid bat-to-ball ability and on-base skills, he could be someone’s low-end regular in center field.”
Rays GM Eric Neander continued to heap the praise on Heredia’s defense after the Rays acquired the outfielder this past offseason as a piece of the Mallex Smith deal, calling him a “top of the line defender.” However, that defensive prowess didn’t always show up in the numbers, as our own Darby Robinson profiled not long after the trade, contrasting the “eye test” measures where Heredia excels versus the statistical models where he is not as solid. Darby concluded that, “he runs good routes and makes a lot of plays the average fielder might not. Some metrics seem to think he’s on the upper end of outfield defenders, and no matter which one you check, his corner defense seems to rate well.”
As for his bat, since his arrival to the Show, the best you can say is that doesn’t embarrass himself. He doesn’t go outside the zone often, and makes good contact both in the zone and out. He draws walks at a decent rate, and rarely strikes out.
But his three spring homeruns and two doubles notwithstanding, his lack of pop (his ISO over parts of three seasons with the Mariners is just .092) drags down his profile. ZIPS and Steamer project an 83 and a 93 wRC+, respectively.
Ideally, the Rays would like to have Heredia in Durham for depth purposes, but the Duffy injury puts him on the squad as the 25th man over Andrew Velazquez. Though the Rays hope for a quick return from Duffy, hammy’s are tricky. With Duffy’s injury history, there are no guarantees of a speedy return, as the player has already been shut down from baseball activities for two weeks.
This is Heredia’s shot, and he needs to make the most of it.
Because while it’s true that Heredia is nice outfielder to have in reserve, especially for that versatility he provides, Velazquez is even more versatile, showing himself capable at all the infield positions. If Heredia struggles while prospect Velazquez shows his improved bat last year wasn’t a mirage, there could be quick hook waiting in the wings. For now, though, the Rays gave the nod to the veteran outfielder, and that’s just fine.