Minor League Profile: Jeremy Hellickson

 5'11'' 165 LB, Jeremy Hellickson has taken AAA by storm following his 21 swinging strike performance over the weekend vs. the AAA Yankee affiliate. Hellickson has largely been brilliant ascending through the Rays farm system culminating in a mid-season AAA callup in 2009. The 22 year old right hander has displayed masterful command flashing 3 above average pitches, a fastball, change up, and curve ball.

As far as his stuff, you'll be hard pressed to find a better report than, Kiley McDaniel's from 2008: Scouting Jeremy Hellickson

Fastball -55/55

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.

Curveball -50/55

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.

The word on Hellickson has always been that he has outstanding command for such a young pitcher, but his little projection left to improve his stuff. While he dominated the  lower levels, some  scouts felt the more advanced hitters in AAA and MLB would catch up to his stuff. For this reason, his prospect ranking rarely reflected a pitcher with his performance numbers.

So what are those numbers?

Season

Team

IP

K/9

BB/9

K/BB

HR/9

FIP

2006

A-

77.2

11.12

1.85

6

0.35

2.08

2007

A-

111.1

8.57

2.75

3.12

0.57

3.11

2008

A+

76.2

9.74

0.59

16.6

0.82

2.57

2008

AA

75.1

9.44

1.79

5.27

1.79

4.37

2009

AA

56.2

9.85

2.22

4.43

0.64

2.88

2009

AAA

30.1

8.6

2.97

2.9

0.89

3.86

 

We will talk more about ball and strikes in a bit. For now, let's concentrate on batted ball data. Minor league batted ball data is pretty well recognized as unreliable. In an attempt to offset that, I averaged out Statcorner.com's numbers with minorleaguesplits.com's.  One of the knocks on Hellickson has been a propensity for allowing the long ball. This worry grew larger after his 1.79 HR/9 in his first season in AA. You can see he has fared better in 2009.

 

Year

Team

Level

GB/FB

HR/FB

2007

BGR  

          1.29

5.3%

2008

CHA  

A+ 

          1.55

9.3%

2008

MON  

AA 

          1.27

19.2%

2009

MON  

AA 

          0.93

6.0%

2009

DUB  

AAA 

          1.04

8.3%

 

It appears 2008 was an anomaly as a 19.2% HR/FB is more than twice that of any other of Hellickson' stints.

So how about strikeouts, walks and hittability? Hittability and lack of an out pitch are terms all too familiar in Hellickson scouting reports. You would expect this to show now that he has reached AAA. Let's compare Hellickson's pitch result data to the other pitchers on the Rays staff, as well as some pitchers he has been compared to.  Before we do that, I am aware of the sample size issue. Unfortunately, pitch result data is not readily available for AA so we cannot compare across pitchers. I went ahead and calculated Hellickson's 2009 data from milb.com's gameday archive. Here are his AA pitch results to serve as a guideline for AAA.

 

SwStrk

CallStrk

Foul

IP

Ball

13.3%

17.3%

18.3%

17.2%

33.9%

 

Here are his opponent's swing results:

 

Fair

Foul

Whiff

35.2%

37.5%

27.3%

 

Now lets take a look at those AAA comps:

 

AAA name

Year

Age

IP

K%

BB%

SwStrk%

CallStrk%

Foul

Ball%

IP

Jeremy Hellickson

2009

22

30.3

23.2%

8.0%

13.3%

17.6%

17.8%

34.9%

16.4%

David Price

2009

23

34.3

23.8%

10.8%

9.6%

19.6%

15.5%

38.7%

16.6%

Jeff Niemann

2008

25

132.7

23.2%

9.2%

9.1%

17.6%

17.1%

38.4%

17.7%

Andy Sonnanstine

2007

24

71

23.4%

4.6%

11.8%

17.8%

18.9%

32.1%

19.2%

Matt Garza

2007

23

92

23.7%

7.7%

10.0%

17.2%

17.8%

37.1%

17.6%

Kevin Slowey

2007

23

133.7

20.4%

3.4%

10.1%

17.7%

22.0%

29.4%

20.7%

Johnny Cueto

2007

21

22

23.6%

2.3%

13.4%

16.5%

20.4%

31.8%

17.9%

 

Right near the top of the leaderboard for Swinging Strikes is Mr. Hittable.

 

Swing Breakdown

Fair

Foul

Whiff

Jeremy Hellickson

34.5%

37.5%

28.0%

David Price

39.8%

37.2%

23.0%

Jeff Niemann

40.3%

39.0%

20.7%

Andy Sonnanstine

38.5%

37.9%

23.6%

Matt Garza

38.8%

39.2%

22.0%

Kevin Slowey

39.2%

41.7%

19.1%

Johnny Cueto

34.6%

39.5%

25.9%

 

The fewest amount of swings resulting in fair balls goes to Mr. Hittable.

 

Non-Foul Strikes

Jeremy Hellickson

30.9%

David Price

29.2%

Jeff Niemann

26.7%

Andy Sonnanstine

29.6%

Matt Garza

27.2%

Kevin Slowey

27.8%

Johnny Cueto

29.9%

 

The highest percentage of non-contact strikes also goes to Mr. Hittable.

I'm not sure we still need to be concerned about Jeremy Hellickson's hittability. Hitters at all levels have had a tough time making good contact, if at all, against Hellickson's 3 above average pitches.

I know some will point to his 21 swinging strike performance and say the results are skewed. I counter that the following are his swinging strike %'s by game: 15.5%, 8.1%, 15.4%, 12.5%, 19.4%.  That is some pretty solid stuff. I was hoping to use matthan's Expected Strikeout formula to show Hellickson's AAA strikeouts are actually lower than his pitch results would lead you to believe but unfortunately, I cannot account for which swinging strikes were in and out of the zone. Here is the formula:

K%=(ClStr%*.9)+(Foul%*.5)+(InPly%*-.9)+(InZSwStr%*1.1)+(OZSwStr%*1.5)

Since I can't account for out of the zone swings, I will err on the side of caution and consider every swinging strike in the zone.  That produces an expected K% of 24.6% which is still higher than his AAA K%.  If we assume half the whiffs were out of the zone that pushes it up to 27.2%. Another factor to consider, matthan's formula was based on MLB #'s so its not apples to apples. I would imagine a AAA formula would result in an even larger Expected K%.

In summary, I am extremely bullish on Jeremy Hellickson. Concerns of hittability appear to be overblown. Injuries have been a concern in the minors, so I hope the Rays find a way to utilize him before the sum of the injuries take too large a toll. His command is already major league ready. If the reports of little projection are true, the Rays may be best served in terms of value maximization by clearing some room on the big league squad for Hellickson by the trading deadline of next year.

Stats from Statcorner, FanGraphs, minorleaguesplits, milb.com

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