By Kiley McDaniel
I got a chance recently to see one of the more intriguing breakout prospects of the young 2008 minor league season, Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.
He has some out of this world numbers this season in the High-A Florida State League for Vero Beach (61-to-3 K/BB ratio in 51.2 IP), and has the pedigree to back it up, as an over-slot 4th round pick out of an Iowa high school in the 2005 draft.
As with most young Rays arms, the organization has wisely taken it slow with Hellickson development-wise and he’s now in High-A in his 3rd full season, but he is now primed for a season of 130-140 innings and a likely promotion to Double-A Montgomery at some point, as he has little left to prove at this level.
Hellickson has also obviously caught the eye of the Rays front office, as top team executives GM Andrew Friedman and Senior VP Gerry Hunsicker were in attendance and were visibly and audibly enthused about Hellickson’s encouraging performance.
Take a closer look at a pitcher that should be rocketing through the best minor league system in the game, after the jump…
Here’s the video I took of Hellickson from this outing. As you can tell, the focus comes and goes, but I think I made up for it by seeing him from about 14 different angles.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Vero Beach Devil Rays (Tampa Bay)
Pitch - Present/Future Grades
Fastball - 55/55
Curveball - 50/55
Command - 50/55
Physical Description - He’s listed at 6′1 and 185 lbs, and that looks about right. There’s not much projection left and he’s filled out about as much as his frame will allow. Thin and athletic throughout, looks more like a second baseman really, but among pitchers is along the lines of Scott Kazmir or Tim Hudson.
Worked 91 to 93 and kept the velocity late into the outing. Worked off of this pitch traditionally, getting ahead by using it aggressively early in the count and then going to the breaking ball for K’s, but would mix in the changeup to keep hitters on their toes. Flashed above-average life and command of the pitch, mostly as late run in on the hands of right-handers. Also showed some solid sink at times. Hellickson’s approach with the fastball was very impressive for a young guy with a smaller frame; to come after hitters with a big boy’s fastball and approach.
His breaking ball is a little tough to figure out, but I identified it as a 73-75 mph loopier early-count curve with 10-to-4 slider action and a hard 77-79 mph curve that had sharper downward bite and was more of an 11-to-5 break.
The slower version had flatter break and was thrown exclusively to the arm side, indicating Hellickson wasn’t following through, making it more of a get-me-over, show pitch.
The harder version was used more often and was a late-count chase pitch that was frequently buried and was easily above-average when on. The pitch would back up and come out flat a few too many times, so the feel isn’t completely there, but over half of them were late, sharp, and overmatched FSL hitters.
Changeup - 50/55
The changeup was also advanced, and elicited some weird swings as well. It is solidly average right now and flashed above with late fade and depth with excellent deception. Like the curveball, the changeup isn’t quite there yet as he wasn’t getting both the fade and depth consistently and sailed way out of the zone at times, but the deception and potential is there, and when it’s in the zone, Hellickson again is hitting spots. It was a clear third pitch by usage, mostly to keep hitters off of expecting all fastballs before the hard curve comes out.
Comparing two contrasting frames like Brad Penny and Hellickson (both at right) with nearly identical mechanics belies the point I made earlier about Hellickson: that he’s a smaller guy that pitches like a big power pitcher, and has the stuff to back it up.
As for some of the technical parts of the motion, Hellickson has a real clean arm, works from a classic high 3/4 arm angle, has average deception, and while he doesn’t have great downward plane because of average height, his command and movement have given him average groundball/flyball tendencies.
Notes - It might appear easy enough to just say Hellickson is above-average across the board, as the top of the report states, but there’s a little more granularity to see on the field that just that. There’s a lot of 57.5’s on the board if I was picky enough to go to half-grades.
There are a lot of “good” pitchers in the FSL, but there’s one that will take average stuff and mix it with plus intangibles it to become a solid starter in the big leagues. Hellickson is a guy with better stuff than that merely “good” group, and also has those plus intangibles that lead me say he’ll overachieve. Hellickson’s deameanor, approach, and feel for his craft are all very impressive.
As for the current projection, I think Hellickson could be an effective big leaguer right now, though his stuff wouldn’t allow for a huge margin of error at the major league level. He should certainly be in the minors for a number of reasons, but should also be in Double-A for some time this season.
See SaberScouting’s Scouting Tutorial for an explanation of the jargon and numbers.
Adjusted Overall Future Potential: 57
Present Group: D, Future Group: B
Projected Role: #3 Starter
MLB ETA: Full-Time in 2010
Overall Comparison: Tim Hudson (without the plus sink on the fastball)