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Almost Ripe: Is Tampa's Hellickson Ready for the Show?
Ethan Wagner,

An underrated pleasure in every draft is seeing what kinds of players fantasy owners reach for. Or if you play in an auction league, itís a happy coincidence for the rest of the league when there just happens to be two guys absolutely convinced that a particular player is in for a big year.

One subset of players that unfailingly inspires this kind of passion is that of hard-throwing, young pitchers. Iím already looking forward to seeing some team taking Stephen Strasburg in the third round this year, the allure of such talent too tempting to risk waiting a round or four.

Call me risk-averse, but you wonít see me reaching for that group of pitchers. Itís nothing against them; I just know they wonít last to where I have them valued. Too many owners like to dream on players like this.

Letís talk about a young pitcher I would draft, though. Jeremy Hellickson isnít a secret Ė he is widely considered one of the Tampa Bay Raysí two best prospects and generally slots in around the top 30 or 40 overall in baseball. But throughout his strong season last year, one canít say he received much hype outside the greater St. Petersburg area.

The Numbers

How good were his numbers? Splitting time nearly equally between Double-A and Triple-A, Hellickson posted a combined 2.45 ERA in 114.0 IP. His WHIP was staggeringly good at 0.886, and it actually was better in Triple-A, where he finished at .802 in nine starts.

Happily, Hellicksonís numbers donít appear to be a function of good fortune, as his peripherals were very sound. He struck out 10.4 batters per 9 innings, demonstrating the ability to get outs independent of his defense, and in allowing 0.6 HR/9, he showed he could keep the ball in the park. He flashed solid control as well, walking 29 batters in 114 IP. Combine the ability to get strikeouts with a stinginess in allowing base runners, and you have an intriguing prospect, indeed.

Obstacles to Success

Hellickson does have some obstacles, but they shouldnít be debilitating. While he has posted excellent strikeout numbers throughout his minor league career (9.9 per 9 innings over five minor league seasons), heís not a classic hard-thrower who projects to maintain this rate in the major leagues. Yet, heís also not a soft-tosser, meaning itís a good bet he can still maintain strong strikeout numbers, if not at his superb minor league level.

The other potential sticking point with Hellickson is that the Rays enter Spring Training six deep in their rotation, meaning Hellickson needs to leapfrog a couple of pitchers to get meaningful action. I donít necessarily see this as a big deal, though. Jeff Niemann had a nice season last year, but heís been a constant injury risk.

Additionally, the Rays havenít been shy about dealing a pitcher when they have a surplus, exemplified last offseason when they traded both Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel. Maybe this year Andy Sonnanstine gets similar treatment, although heís hardly a formidable obstacle if he sticks around.

If Iím looking at drafting any pitching prospects, Jeremy Hellickson typifies the kind of player Iím interested in. Whereas to draft a guy like Neftali Feliz, I probably would have to pass up some pretty good, established starters, I can probably get a guy like Hellickson later where it makes more sense to play the upside instead of taking, say, Kyle Lohse.

The Outlook

As far as Hellicksonís outlook, itís probable that he gets a shot during the first half of the season at some point, when injury or ineffectiveness creates an opening. He strikes me as someone well-equipped to succeed out of the gate, given his strong command and track record, though perhaps the strikeouts come a bit more for him as he gains experience facing major league hitters.

For this season, Iím expecting Hellickson, once he arrives, to be a capable back-end rotation option for fantasy owners, with the capacity to be a mid-rotation guy in the future.

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