Name: Jeremy Hefner
DOB: March 11, 1986
Hefner came to Eugene with determination – tossing strikes, commanding the inner half of the plate, and challenging hitters. It worked to his advantage.
With 20.1 innings in the bank, Hefner had allowed just one earned run while walking three and striking out 29. The opposition, many adjusting to wood bats, could not compete with his aggressiveness.
As a result of the challenge early in the count, Hefner was able to expand the zone and get hitters chasing his pitches. His confidence was soaring.
His final start in August started the downward spiral, although he would find himself several times in the final stretch run.
While he was still attempting to challenge hitters, his pitches were not as crisp and his mechanics faltered, making each of his pitches lose the earlier location and movement.
Over his last eight outings, Hefner had three games without any earned runs. The other five games, however, produced 23 of the 27 earned runs he allowed on the season. He also walked 15 of his 20 batters over that span.
"He ended up around 60 innings," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "He struck out a ton and walked very few. He had two or three outings where he was just dead arm, and then he bounced back for three good games. You will see a different pitcher next year."
He was flying open on his fastball delivery and several opponents were able to pick up on the difference in his mechanics. His arm lagged behind in the delivery, hampering his ability to throw consistent strikes. He also lost his line to the plate, putting his balance off.
His long gets a little long on its move towards the plate and his body struggles to catch up, losing some of the velocity on his pitches. He might be a candidate to have his hands brought over his head out of the windup to gain better balancing and overall timing with his delivery.
Hefner features a two-seam fastball that has solid run towards the lower half of the zone. His fastball came in at 86-89 MPH, topping out at 90 MPH. At Oral Roberts, Hefner had more velocity, routinely reaching the low-90s and an off-season of rest could be the ticket to harnessing that velocity again.
After working 86 innings in college, he worked another 62.1 with short-season Eugene, causing some to believe that fatigue had set in.
"I used to get (junk) from our scouts who said, ‘When we signed them they were all throwing 94 and now they are throwing 89,'" Riddoch explained. "‘Had they thrown 120 innings? Did they play on just the weekends?'
"They would panic. Where did the velocity go? I have been doing this 40 years. Next year, it will probably bounce back or be even better. They panic right away to cover their tail. It is a culture shock your arm goes through playing pro ball. It is tiring."
His slider has good bite to it and kicks into tailing action away right-handed hitters when he keeps his elbow elevated and mechanics in tune. It is a solid pitch that works as a strikeout pitch with two-plane action and a go-to pitch for the right-hander, specifically used to get a right-hander chasing outside of the zone.
His changeup made marked improvement early in the year but seemed to digress as the season wore on. He had good command and feel for the pitch, using it effectively against left-handed hitters before he lost confidence in the offering and had to rely more heavily on his fastball/slider combination – both of which come in on left-handers.
The Oklahoma native focused on his changeup at the Padres fall Instructional League, throwing it once every four pitches. He seemed to find success with the pitch and began pitching like he had earlier in the year.
Hefner worked out this off-season with fellow prospect Drew Miller and has been touted as a hard worker who is eager to improve. He feeds off a batters weaknesses and is a true student of the game.
"He improved through the year," former minor league field coordinator and current MLB Scout Bill Bryk said. "He is similar to (Corey) Kluber. He has a chance to be a major league contributor."
"Hefner is a competitor," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "A great kid that works hard."
ETA: Hefner's surge up the prospect charts could coincide with the reemergence of his fastball velocity. The right-hander should move into Fort Wayne this year, and it is conceivable he earns a promotion to High-A to end the year. He profiles best as a middle reliever, unless his changeup shows more consistency. He should move rather quickly because of his pitching instincts and mature approach on the hill.