Hellickson tore up the high school showcase circuit in the summer of 2004, inching up top prospect lists with his performance at numerous Perfect Game USA events. He also led the Junior National Team to a gold medal at the '04 World Championship in Taiwan, going 2-0 with a 17-to-1 K/W ratio in 14.0 innings pitched as the ace of the USA staff. Following his impressive showing at several events—he also tossed a scoreless inning of relief at the AFLAC All-American Game—during the summer of his junior year, he emerged as one of the most sought after prep pitching prospects in the nation.
Since his high school season did not start until May 24—as the weather in Iowa makes for a long spring—he made a habit of working out at the Perfect Game USA headquarters in Cedar Rapids. Although he flashed a low-90s fastball throughout the spring, some scouts worried about his size—he is only 6-foot-1—and commitment to LSU. Many talent evaluators were also weary of a high school pitcher coming from a cold-weather state, as there were limited opportunities to see him pitch before the June First-Year draft.
Hellickson acknowledged in an old interview that his size hurt his draft status.
"That is what a lot of people have said. I am working hard to prove anyone that ever doubted me that I can be a successful pitcher at the big league level some day regardless of my size. Size definitely helps some pitchers out, but I think my stuff will get me where I want to be."
Tampa Bay, though, chose Hellickson with its fourth-round selection, adding another intriguing youngster to its deep stable of young arms. After signing with the then-Devil Rays, he reported to rookie-level Princeton, where he struck out 11 in only six innings of work.
Hellickson spent the 2006 season with the Hudson Valley Renegades in the short-season New York Penn League. He enjoyed a fine showing in his first true professional campaign, posting the lowest ERA, 2.43, in the organization in 77.2 innings pitched. The then-19-year-old ended the year 3-3 with an impressive 96-to-16 K/W ratio in 15 appearances to finish as the league's leader in strikeouts. He also registered an opponents' batting average of .193 and .091 WHIP. A Mid-Season All-Star in the league, his performance did not go unnoticed, as he was named the top prospect on the circuit by Baseball America and Hudson Valley Pitcher of the Year.
Hellickson then made the jump to the South Atlantic League with ease in 2007, helping pitch the Columbus Catfish to a championship. Although he remained in extended minor league spring training and missed the first few weeks of the year, he enjoyed an excellent campaign to anchor a deep Columbus starting rotation. He won 13 of 21 starts, finishing with a 2.67 ERA, 106-to-34 K/W ratio and a .214 opponents' batting average. In 111.1 innings pitched, he allowed 87 hits while finishing with a 0.92 GO/A. A command specialist with a low-to-mid-90s heater and a decent curveball and changeup, he cracked the Rays' Top-10 prospect list in nearly every pre-season publication for his performance in his full-season debut.
Hellickson came into camp this February with plenty of expectations, and scouts were interested to see how well he could make the transition to the Florida State League. He did not disappoint, going 7-1 with a 2.00 ERA in 14 starts with the Vero Beach Devil Rays. Perhaps more impressive, he showed a tremendous ability to miss bats, registering a 83-to-5 K/W ratio while limiting opponents to a .224 batting average in 76.2 innings pitched. Making it look easy with every outing, he was named as the starting pitcher for the East squad in the FSL All-Star game, though he did not pitch due to a blister on his pitching hand.
For his stellar performance, Hellickson—along with his Vero Beach teammate at the time, David Price—was promoted to Double-A Montgomery at the end of June. The jump to Double-A, however, has not been as flawless for him as it was for Price, who is dominating the circuit. The Iowa product was roughed up for eight hits, including five homers, in his Double-A debut, one of the worst performances of his professional career. With two outs in the fifth inning that night, he surrendered back-to-back-to-back homers, leading to his early exit from the game.
Hellickson has rebounded nicely since then, as his K/W ratio is now 20-to-3 through his five Southern League starts. He is 0-3 with a 4.88 ERA in 27.2 innings pitched since the promotion. Hellickson, who continues to adjust to the advanced level of competition, was sharp in his last appearance, on June 18, when he tossed seven shutout innings while striking out five against Birmingham. There are concerns about his tendency to give up the long ball, but he should continue to improve the rest of the summer.
Hellickson's name has surfaced in trade rumors recently—the Colorado Rockies are reportedly asking for him or Wade Davis to be included in a package for closer Brian Fuentes— as Major League Baseball gets closer to the July 31 trade deadline. The odds of him getting moved, however, are fairly slim. While he does not profile as a front-end pitcher at the highest level, he is still one of the most promising pitching prospects in the minors and has the chance to emerge as a solid middle-of-the-rotation righty in the majors some day.
Scout.com recently ranked Hellickson as the eighth-best (this does seem a bit high) prospect in Minor League Baseball. Click here for the full list.
Here is a scouting report on Hellickson from SaberScouting.com.Radio Appearance: This afternoon, Rays Digest writer Tyler Hissey will be appearing on Happy Hour With JP On CBS Sports Radio in Tampa to discuss the Rays' chances of remaining in the AL East race. Hissey will come on at 3:30 P.M.
Click here to listen live.