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Prospect Prelude: Jeremy Hellickson

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The front office here at fake teams has given me the call-up.

I’m going to write about minor leaguers and prospects, pre- and post-hype, coming to a big league city soon.

From now until the end of the season, we’re going to run down some kids to consider stashing away as keepers for 2010, assuming you have the room. (And I’m assuming you’re in a keeper league; if you’re not, you’re missing out, big time.) Roster these guys now – let’s also they are available already in Yahoo or whichever site you use –  and gauge their value when the hype starts kicking into high gear next spring.

I’m not going to waste your time waxing poetic about Stephen Strasberg or Neftali Feliz or even Brian Matusz. I’m addressing deeper mixed leagues where you need to do your homework to stay ahead of the pack. After all, it’s a lot less expensive to land a player before he becomes a star than after.

Our first installment is on Jeremy Hellickson, a 22-year-old right-hander in the Tampa Bay organization. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2005 out of his Iowa high school.

I actually drafted his teammate Wade Davis heading into this season and waited impatiently as the Rays did their usual foot-dragging to promote their talented youngsters. Needless to say, I dropped Davis, he was immediately scooped up and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

But, it seems, Hellickson could be better.

Baseball people are split on Hellickson’s potential. His velocity (typically topping out at 93 mph) doesn’t dazzle like Davis’ (95 mph), and he’s not the protypical 6-foot-5 either. (He goes about 6-1, 185 pounds.) He's been compared to Roy Oswalt or Tim Hudson, for his size, and his delivery looks a little like Brad Penny's.

Hellickson can crank it up to 94-95, to be fair, but his 79 mph changeup is more effective when it is coupled with a free-and-easy low-90s fastball because his release looks identical. He works off his fastball, but his change is his out pitch. He also has an above-average curveball, and he is working on a sinker.

The digits that really do Hellickson justice are 2009’s 9-2 record, 2.45 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, .178 BAA, 132 strikeouts, in 114 innings across Double- and Triple-A.

And he’s been rollin’ lately, a regular Hellickson on wheels. Check out the strikeout totals from his last four starts: 10, 10, 12, 9. His walk total during that stretch? Five.

And this isn’t a one-year fluke. In five minor league seasons, he’s got a 37-13 mark, 2.71 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 507 K’s and 100 BB’s in 461 innings.

Of course minor league numbers don’t always translate to the bigs. Just ask Yusmeiro Petit.

But Hellickson’s numbers are so sparkling, they could be scuffed up in The Show and still shine. I mean, if you know how to be that successful, some of it has to translate. Plus, he has been praised for his bulldog mentality and even-keeled maturity.

There’s no telling when the aforementioned slow-moving Rays brass will promote this starter to the major league rotation, seeing that James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis all stand in the way.

But injuries and trades happen, and right now Hellickson can be had for free (or pretty cheap) and is sure to be in or around the top 10 of most prospect lists next spring.