Jeff Passan of ESPN reports that former Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich has agreed to a contract with los Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos in the Mexican League.
You no doubt remember Heimlich’s story. In 2012, when he was 15 years old, Heimlich pleaded guilty to a felony charge of molesting his then-six-year-old niece. His past was brought to light when a reporter for the university newspaper, in the course of a routine background check on Heimlich, who was the subject of a feature story, found a public record showing that Heimlich, a registered sex offender due to his plea, had failed to report per court orders.
Heimlich is considered the most highly-talented unsigned pitcher around. Yet, because of his history, he went undrafted in the 2017 and 2018 drafts. Last year the Kansas City Royals showed an interest in signing Heimlich, with general manager Dayton Moore saying that Heimlich deserved a second chance.
That did not happen, in part because of Moore’s own comments. While most people agree that, in general, people deserve second chances, Moore asserted that Heimlich had “earned” a second chance, while doing nothing to explain what, exactly, he had done apart from throw a baseball 96 m.p.h. with his left hand. Indeed, Heimlich has taken to denying that he ever did that for which he plead guilty and has blamed his plea on bad advice from legal counsel. It’s a claim strongly contradicted by the victim’s mother. Moore further complicated the story by making odd and, frankly, insulting comparisons between Heimlich and one-time Royals player Jarrod Dyson, as if the sort of second chance Dyson received was comparable to the second chance Heimlich was seeking. It was clear that the Royals were looking for some palatable way to bring a talented pitcher into the organization but they did a very poor job of doing it and abandoned the effort due to the blowback.
I’d speculate that, based on this very story, the effort has not actually been abandoned. Passan did not get this story by dutifully scanning the Mexican League transaction wire for notable names. Rather, he cites “sources” telling him of the Heimlich signing. Passan likewise cites scouts who say that Heimlich looked good pitching at a workout in January. Again, Passan did not schlep up to the Driveline Baseball Academy in Kent, Washington and overhear the scouts talking. He was likely told that for a reason. I suspect that a team or teams is scouting Heimlich and wants people to know, via this report, that Heimlich is still a good pitcher. They want them to know that because, if Heimlich dominates the Mexican League — which will likely be brought to people’s attention in a similar fashion — there will be a new effort to get him to a big league organization.
When that happens, it’ll be interesting to see whether the organization takes a different, better approach than the Royals did last year. Whether it does the necessary work and outreach with the fan base and the community to address legitimate concerns and to establish that Heimlich has, in fact, earned that second chance. If they don’t — if they do what Dayton Moore and the Royals did and imply that there is some unassailable right to a job pitching in professional baseball and tell fans that they have to take the team’s word that the guy is reformed and redeemed — it’s not going to go well.