College Sports

Will pitching prospect’s past sex crime derail pro career before it starts?

Luke Heimlich, ex-Puyallup High standout and ace at Oregon State, could fall off many MLB teams’ draft boards after The Oregonian’s story detailing his felony charge of child molestation came out Thursday.
Luke Heimlich, ex-Puyallup High standout and ace at Oregon State, could fall off many MLB teams’ draft boards after The Oregonian’s story detailing his felony charge of child molestation came out Thursday. Courtesy

The next few days were supposed to be the capping achievement of Luke Heimlich’s amateur baseball career.

This weekend, the ace of Oregon State University was scheduled to pitch in the NCAA Division I championships.

On Monday, the former Puyallup High School standout was expected to be picked in the first couple rounds of the major league amateur draft.

That has all changed Thursday after a story by The Oregonian detailed Heimlich’s past sex-criminal history for molesting a 6-year-old girl, throwing his future up in the air.

Would the Beavers pull him off his scheduled start against Vanderbilt in the NCAA Super Regionals? As of late Thursday, the team had not shown how it will handle this situation. But in a statement released by the university, school president Ed Ray called the newspaper’s report “disturbing.”

In a statement released Thursday by Oregon State University, school president Ed Ray called the The Oregonian’s report “disturbing.”

Ray said the school “does not condone the conduct as reported. But we also understand that this case involves a criminal matter that was previously addressed by the judicial system in the state of Washington,” he wrote.

As far as his MLB draft stock, there have been reports circulating that some teams have already taken Heimlich off their draft lists entirely.

Scott Hunter, the Mariners’ first-year director of amateur scouting, said Heimlich’s status would surely be discussed among the Mariners front office, including general manager Jerry Dipoto.

“(The news) just hit our draft room this morning,” Hunter told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Hunter added the organization does thorough background checks on all of its draft prospects.

“It is obviously huge,” Hunter said of the news. “There would be a number of reasons that could draw red flags. If you have other things that are taking the focus away from what your main job is – that is trying to get better and get to the big leagues – it is obviously a concern for us, and probably every team in baseball.”

STARRED AT PUYALLUP

Heimlich first pitched for Puyallup High School on the junior varsity squad in 2013 when he was 17. That was two years after he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of child molestation.

The crimes were committed between 2009 and 2011, and Heimlich admitted his guilt in a handwritten statement to authorities.

According to court records, Heimlich received two years of probation and was ordered to attend sex-offender treatment for two years.

Those two years came while Heimlich pitched for Puyallup, eventually leading the Vikings to the Class 4A title in 2014, and being named the Gatorade state player of the year.

Rick Wells, the Puyallup School District athletic director, said he was unaware of Heimlich’s criminal history – until Thursday.

luke throws
Luke Heimlich led the Puyallup Vikings to the Class 4A title in 2014, and was named the Gatorade state player of the year. Dean J. Koepfler Staff file, 2014

“If I didn’t know about it, there’s not much I can do about it,” Wells said. “He was home-schooled … and if it didn’t happen on our campus, and we didn’t know about it, there’s no way we are privy.”

Federal and state laws limit the information school districts can disclose about juvenile sex offenders, even if the incidents happen at school, The News Tribune reported in October. It is unclear whether students who are homeschooled and only take part in school athletics are required to disclose their sex offender status.

Three-and-a-half months after leading Puyallup to its first state title, Heimlich gave his final summer class presentation to earn enough credits to enroll early at OSU.

He pitched immediately for the Beavers, pitching in 29 games as a true freshman, posting a 3.61 ERA.

The next year, he finished with a 3.53 ERA.

Heimlich ramped up his offseason activities last summer. He packed on a few more pounds, and now stands at 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds.

Last summer, he stayed in Corvallis, Oregon, to work out in a pitching program designed by Driveline, which uses weighted balls and different throwing rates to strengthen the arm.

Heimlich’s velocity took an immediate jump – from the upper-80 mph range to 95 mph. And he’s been able to maintain that type of fastball deep in games.

He also sharpened up some of his breaking pitches. The results have been astounding – 11-1 record, 0.76 ERA, 128 strikeouts in 118.1 innings, and no home runs given up.

“I wish he was 6-foot-4,” Puyallup coach Marc Wiese said two weeks ago while at Safeco Field for the state championships. “He’d be a top-five pick.”

Heimlich, reached by The News Tribune in early May, said he was ready to take the next step in his career.

“It’s a dream of mine, I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball,” he said. “This is something to look forward to.”

If I didn’t know about it, there’s not much I can do about it. He was home-schooled … and if it didn’t happen on our campus, and we didn’t know about it, there’s no way we are privy.

Rick Wells, Puyallup School District athletic director

THE UNCOVERED STORY

The Oregonian, in an editorial accompanying the story, said it learned about Heimlich’s 2012 conviction while doing a routine background check before running a profile on him.

Heimlich failed to renew his registration as a sex offender in Oregon within 10 days of his most recent birthday and was cited in Benton County on a misdemeanor charge that was dismissed last month, according to court records reviewed by the Associated Press.

That citation led The Oregonian to the Washington state case and it obtained those records using a public information act request.

Heimlich did not respond to requests for comment from the newspaper. Oregon State coach Pat Casey declined to comment.

Heimlich’s attorney, Stephen Ensor, did not return a call from The Associated Press.

Oregon State spokesman Steve Clark did not say when the school became aware of Heimlich’s status as a registered sex offender or to answer any questions about the case, citing federal laws that protect student privacy.

The state police provide the school with a list of registered sex offenders who are affiliated with the campus on a regular basis, Clark said, and the school then interviews each person and puts safeguards in place to protect other students and staff.

He declined to say if Heimlich’s name had been provided to the school by the Oregon State Police.

“We’re not able to discuss the specifics of this case, when we knew, what we knew or any other student information specific to this student or other students. It’s a federal law,” Clark told The Associated Press.

Staff writers TJ Cotterill and Kenny Ocker contributed to this report.

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