Anyone with a pulse knows that Jeremy Hellickson is pretty dang good at throwing a baseball. His praise has been coming through in bucketfuls of late thanks to exposure at the Futures Game and his status as the best pitcher in the Minor Leagues. Two questions on the tip of every Rays fans’ tongue is when will we see him up with the big boys and in what capacity. It’s a delicate question due to a couple of variables, namely, the idea of innings count and how to maximize him upon promotion. Normally you might be worried about the service time question as well, but since we are already past the Super-2 window, and it’s seems like a foregone conclusion that he will break camp with the Rays, then we shouldn’t really worry too much about it. Another concern could be whether he can get out Major Leaguers out, but the numbers are about as good as you can expect so far this year:
Couple this with universal praise from scouts, in particular Fangraphs prospect maven, Bryan Smith:
Hellickson could be a fine big league pitcher yesterday, as his command and ability to keep the ball down are really good skills. I do wonder if his strikeout rate will still be this good in the Majors, though his ability to throw fastball-change-curve in any situation is a rare skill. FIP is going to like this guy.
So with two of the more pressing questions seemingly answered, what about the innings count and how best he can help the Rays? Here is a look at his innings by year:
Up until 2009 it was a nice, slow increase of innings, but with his late start last year he couldn’t continue on the linear path. In 18 starts this year he’s almost caught up to last year so let me make a prediction. I’m going to say that no matter what happens he’s called up after his last start in July, presumably July 29th. This will let him get four more starts in the minors which would be roughly 24 more innings for a total of 130ish. This also gives the Rays a chance to see if Wade Davis can make the necessary adjustments to live up to the vast potential that we all see in him. If he doesn’t then I could see the Rays sending him to the bullpen and pushing Hellickson in as our 5th starter for the last 2 months of the year. If that’s the case, he would make about another 8 starts which would get him to 30, total, on the year and would have his innings up around 170-180. This might sound like a lot, but he’s been mostly throwing low-stress, count-managed games at Durham and then could go into the pen as needed if we make it to the playoffs and segue to a four-man rotation.
Plan A, in my opinion, would be seeing Wade Davis start to show some progress that would let Hellickson move into the bullpen, immediately, where he can use his skill against lefties and righties, alike, and be a vital cog in an already-solid pen. If you figure they got him another 20-30 innings out of the pen, then you’re talking about 150-160 on the year, which is more in line with what he did in 2008, and could be considered a more conservative approach. Honestly, it’s a great problem to have as I’m utterly convinced that he could step in tomorrow and help this team to win games. What are your thoughts?