This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Report on Jeremy Hellickson
Tampa Bay seems to have a knack for developing pitching prospects. A name to watch closely for 2010 is Jeremy Hellickson, who was outstanding this year in Double-A and Triple-A and now ranks as their top pitching prospect.
Jeremy Hellickson was drafted in the fourth round in 2005, out of Hoover High School (my alma mater!) in Des Moines, Iowa. He was well-known to scouts and had been the ace starter for the 2004 US National Team in the World Youth Championship series, but he fell to the fourth round because of his bonus demands and a Louisiana State University scholarship. He signed for $600,000 and made his pro debut with six innings for Princeton in the Appalachian League that summer. The Rays moved him up to the New York-Penn League in 2006 and he pitched great, posting a 2.43 ERA with a 96:16 K:BB in 78 innings for Hudson Valley. He went 13-3, 2.67 with a 106:34 K:BB in 111 innings for Low-A Columbus in 2007, then continued to pitch well in '08 with a 2.00 ERA and an outstanding 83:5 K:BB in 77 innings for High-A Vero Beach. He struggled at times after moving up to Double-A last summer, but rebounded with excellent numbers in 2009, including a 6-1, 2.51 run in nine starts after being promoted to Triple-A Durham this year, with a 70:15 K:BB in 57 innings. He did not receive a September promotion, but is Tampa Bay's best overall pitching prospect right now and should reach the majors sometime next year.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Hellickson is a right-handed hitter and thrower, born April 8, 1987, listed at 6-1, 185 pounds. He is not a big pitcher and some scouts are skeptical about his height and smallish frame, but he is a very good overall athlete. He can dial his heater up to 94-95 MPH when needed, but works more often in the 90-93 range. His fastball has unusual movement, and his delivery provides enough deception that hitters seem to have a hard time picking the ball up. He has a plus curveball, and made significant strides improving his changeup this year, a pitch which gave him some trouble last year in Double-A. Hellickson has always thrown strikes, but his ability to locate quality strikes and nail spots within the hitting zone has improved over the last year. He models himself after Greg Maddux in terms of pitching style, and demonstrates excellent confidence and mound presence despite his lack of physical size. Health-wise, there have been some concerns about his shoulder. He missed two weeks early in 2007 with a sore arm. He was fine in '08, but the shoulder bothered him again in '09 and he missed most of May and June rehabbing it. He came back without problems and was at full strength down the stretch, but it does indicate that the Rays need to be careful with his workload.
Hellickson has posted consistently excellent ratios at all levels, with strong K:IP and K:BB marks. The only hiccup in his statistical record was in 2008, when he posted a 3.94 ERA with a 79:15 K/BB and 84 hits allowed in 75 innings for Double-A Montgomery, giving up 15 homers. He clamped back down on the homers and hits this year, and it's possible that the trouble last year in Double-A was just bad luck on balls in play. There has been no reduction in his strikeout rate as he's moved up, and indeed his K:IP this year of 11.0 in his nine starts at Durham was the best marker he'd put up since the New York-Penn League. Hellickson was particularly nasty in his last four starts, posting a 41:5 K:BB in his last 27 innings in Triple-A, allowing just ten hits. He does have a noted fly ball tendency and might be vulnerable to home runs at the major league level. His career minor league composite record of 37-13, 2.71 with a 507:100 K:BB in 461 innings, 368 hits allowed, is hard to beat.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Many scouts say that, physically, Hellickson's ceiling is as a number-three starter. However, his ability to miss bats and avoid walks is special, and his results speak for themselves. Even the best young pitching prospects often need adjustment time in the majors, and there's no guarantee that Hellickson will thrive initially. However, if he stays healthy, there's no reason to expect that he won't be a good pitcher, and he's got a chance to be an excellent one.
Article first appeared 10/18/09