Mariners will ease Heredia back into action

Cuban outfielder has only played one game since 2013

March 2nd, 2016

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For Guillermo Heredia, the journey didn't end Wednesday when he stepped on a Major League practice field for the first time, but the Cuban defector certainly appreciated the ramifications of the moment and how far he's come.

Heredia, a 25-year-old center fielder, took part in batting practice and his first full workout with the team after signing a one-year, $507,000 contract Tuesday evening. After playing just one game in 2014 and sitting out all of 2015 due to his defection to Mexico, Heredia will need time to acclimate himself.

But this is where he wants to be and he said there were no regrets about leaving his homeland and taking this path to a shot at pro ball in MLB.

"It's difficult being away, but not impossible," Heredia said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. "Obviously it's hard being away from the game. It's two years and sometimes there are things that you just have to step away from, even the game. And that's the case here. But now that I'm with this organization, I'm going to bring my entire heart to them and work hard to have success."

Mariners manager Scott Servais wants to keep expectations realistic for the youngster who hit .285 in six seasons of pro ball in Cuba. The club likely will start Heredia out in Class A Advanced Clinton or Double-A Jackson and let him get comfortable at the start of the season.

"I'm excited to see him," Servais said. "Our scouting staff was really on him. I've been involved with signing international players before, so I do know the anxiety level and nervousness of what it's like for that young player to come up for the first time, especially in Major League camp.

"I think we probably need to slow play that a little bit. I'm not going to have him get up in front of the room today and talk to our team. We'll let him settle in. But I'm looking forward to seeing him. We'll get a look at batting practice today and what he looks like moving around in the outfield. Obviously he's a speed/defense type player in center field and we'll just get a feel for the bat."

Heredia said the opportunity is "a very big deal for me" and he's ready to take the next step, even if it's a slow process.

And it certainly helps to have fellow Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin sitting in front of the locker adjacent to his in the Mariners clubhouse and working alongside him in the outfield drills as he begins this new phase of his career.

"I've known him since Cuba and I've obviously looked up to him as somebody who has had success," Heredia said. "Now that I'm up here, I'm taking any advice that he gives me to help me get better. That should be very helpful."

From the Mariners' perspective, just getting Heredia in uniform and having him compete at whatever Minor League level he starts with will be the first step. From there, he'll eventually need to show he has the offensive capability to go with what sounds a lot like Martin's skill set of speed and athleticism in center field.

But for now, there's just one goal for a player who has had just one professional at-bat since 2013.

"He just needs to play," Servais said. "It doesn't really matter where, just play."