Name: Jeremy Hefner
DOB: March 11, 1986
After being selected in the fifth-round of the 2007 draft out of Oral Roberts, Hefner was shipped to short-season Eugene where he tied for the team lead with 74 strikeouts in 62.1 innings en route to posting a 3.90 ERA.
In 2008, he stepped up to full-season ball and was the most consistent starter for the Fort Wayne Wizards. Across 29 games, including 24 starts, Hefner went 10-5 while notching a 3.33 ERA. He struck out more than a batter per inning while allowing two runs or less in 15 of his 24 starts.
Late in the year, he was moved up to Lake Elsinore of the California League. He received one regular season start, giving up two runs in five innings. In the playoffs, Hefner allowed eight runs, but just one earned, on 11 hits across six innings.
Hefner returned to Lake Elsinore in '09. He finished the year going 14-9 with a 4.12 ERA. The workhorse earned a decision in all but four of his starts, proving he can work deep into games with regularity and give his team a chance to win the contest as a result.
"He's learning how to locate the fastball and use his curveball, and how it works against right-handed and left-handed hitters," Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He's been hurt more this year by lefties than righties. Last year, it was the righties that hurt him more. So it's about learning how to pitch with those three pitches, but in a different text."
Placing third in the league in victories, Hefner also placed fourth with 142 strikeouts and tied for fifth with 150.2 innings thrown.
Hefner's touted a 3.41 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) in the hitter's league and his 67.9 percent of runners left on base led the Storm pitchers. A little too hittable, at times, Hefner was able to limit much of the damage and stay away from the big inning.
He allowed two runs or less in 12 of his starts. While he allowed more hits than innings pitched, he walked just 38 on the season. Seven of the 13 homers he allowed came in his last eight starts.
It was a bit of a growing year for Hefner. He was tasked with abandoning the slider in favor of a curveball. He fought that during one stretch of the season and suffered when he reverted back to the slider. Hefner had always believed his slider was his best pitch but was proven wrong by the hitters he faced. He also had to change his approach, as he was tipping his pitches with his mitt and wrist specifying which offering was coming next.
"He is still coming along, and he would be the first one to tell you that he was a little disappointed that the curve didn't show up a little earlier," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He struggled with it against righties, he just couldn't get it on line. We actually let him use his frisbee slider for two games, and he got in trouble with it and was really glad to go back to his curve."
The Oral Roberts alumnus throws a fastball that is 88-92 and tops out at 92 mph. He throws the fastball to all sides of the plate and is not afraid to throw inside. His ability to stop up the pitch is crucial. He also sprinkles in a two-seamer that comes in with a little less velocity but has more movement. Using both, he keeps hitters from timing the pitch. When he gets predictable with the four-seam fastball, hitters can have a field day.
The Oklahoma native has a plus changeup that drops off the table as it nears the batters. Hitters are often left out in front of the pitch to hit it weakly the opposite way. It is a pitch he favors using against left-handed hitters and does need to use more against right-handed batters. Its usage can make or break one of his starts.
His curveball is still relatively new, and Hefner lacks confidence in the pitch, despite it being a plus pitch. It has great depth and movement. He will shy away from its use, at times, but it is a pitch that can net a much-needed strikeout or notch a strike – only when thrown with conviction.
"He has such a higher upside with the curveball than with the slider," Rajsich said.
"His slider wasn't a pitch that was going to carry him much past A ball," roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He talked to him about making the switch, and I had never realized he had thrown the curveball in school.
"We brought him to instructs, mainly to work on the curve, and we eliminated the slider, and when he left Instructs, it was one of the better ones that I have seen at any level."
"He could come in right now and dominate with what he threw last year, but that isn't what he's here for," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He's here to become a big league pitcher and throwing a curve and having better fastball command is going to get him there."
If his fastball command is off or if Hefner goes down to two pitches, he is susceptible to getting knocked around. When he is confident in his repertoire and mixing his pitches well, the right-hander can be tough to beat.
Hefner is studious in his approach to pitching. That can be a hindrance as much as a benefit. He didn't like giving up his slider but has finally succumbed to the benefit of shelving the pitch. He can also be his worst enemy if he thinks too much and doesn't allow the flow of the game to dictate his game.
He and his catchers snared 13-of-21 base runners attempting to steal off him – an incredible 61.9 percent success rate for the right-hander and his backstop.
"He varies his look," Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He varies his look to the plate, and he has a feel for when they're going; and his pitches, he was throwing mostly, you've got to remember, he was throwing mostly fastballs and changeups, and it was hard to read his sequences as much as other guys. Other guys were more readable in what their pitch sequences were when they were in counts, but Hefner was not, and so they were having a little bit more difficulty trying to steal on him."
"He's learning how to pitch with fastball, curve and change," Lezcano said. "For him, the biggest struggle is fastball command and learning how to pitch inside. When he learns how to pitch inside, it's going to open up the outer third of the plate for him.
"If they can't lean over the plate, a pitcher can throw something a few inches off of the plate and they are still going to hit it; so you have to throw inside to prevent that. Pelzer and Luebke have been very good this year about understanding this. Hefner is still having some trouble really getting that down."
"He's got a plus curveball, an above average curveball," Lezcano said. "All these kids down here need to work on their fastball command. That is why they are in A-ball. Because if they had fastball command, they'd be in the big leagues. For him, I would think it's his fastball command, and when he gets that down, with that curveball and the change, the sky's the limit."
"He had a lot of changes that he had to do this year as far as pitch selection, pitches that he was using, and how he was using them," Rajsich said. "He had to learn get through the fact that he was tipping pitches early in the year with his glove and with his wrist and we had to get through that stage. A lot of things that happened that he was able to overcome and get through. I thought he had a hell of a year. He learned a lot about himself."
Conclusion: Many within the Padres system are high on Hefner and believe he can make a consistent impact at the major league level. He needs to work in more two-seamers with movement and become more attuned to the mental part of the game for that to happen. He has the stuff but needs confidence and a little tweaking to reach his true potential.
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