On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to talk with Cardinals prospect Ryan Helsley. Earlier this offseason, we rated Helsley as the 14th best prospect in the Cardinals system. After striking out 109 batters against just 19 walks in 95 innings in Low-A Peoria, Helsley told me he would begin this year in Palm Beach. The bulk of our conversation is below.
VEB: Last year, you dominated in Peoria. Did the season exceed expectations?
RH: My expectation every game was to go out there and compete every pitch. I felt as far as that goes, if I threw each pitch with conviction, i felt things would go well. I had a good season and I’m happy with it.
VEB: Do you ever look at the radar gun readings to see how hard you are throwing?
RH: Yeah. I feel like every guy does. It’s always fun to see how hard you are throwing especially if you are feeling good. It makes you feel a little better about yourself.
VEB: Do you remember the first time you threw 100?
RH: It was the last regular season outing of the year at home. My arm was feeling pretty good that day. I didn’t know I did it initially. Somebody tagged me on twitter and said I had done it. it was pretty crazy.
VEB: Last season between yourself, Sandy Alcantara, Junior Fernandez, Jake Woodford, Derian Gonazalez, and Ronnie Williams, the Peoria team had some pretty talented arms. How did you feel about the group as the season was going on?
RH: We had a great group of guys. I think having talent like that all in one place really pushes each guy to get better. We watched each other pitch and really tried to help one another see what’s going on—see if we could pick anything up that we could work on.
VEB: What are your strengths and what do you still need to work on?
RH: My strengths would be my fastball and then my changeup. My curveball is coming along. My offspeed could always get better and being able to locate my fastball better.
VEB: Between the curve and the change, which one is ahead right now?
RH: I’m more comfortable with my changeup. I feel like I can throw it most counts. I’m trying to get more comfortable throwing my curveball in hitter’s counts versus a strikeout pitch, but its come along way so i’m excited to see where it goes this year.
VEB: Anytime a guy can throw as hard as you do, there’s going to be talk about moving to the bullpen. Do you see yourself as a starter? Have you thought about relieving as a potentially quicker route to the majors?
RH: I would hope I can stay a starter. It’s fun starting games. It’s a lot more relaxed. You can control your own game at your speed. Not that the bullpen wouldn’t be fun. I’ve thought about that a little bit, but whatever best fits me and what best fits the Cardinals.
VEB: You missed some time with biceps tendinitis last year. What is your thought process when you feel something wrong with your arm and have to talk to doctors? What is that experience like in your first full season of pro ball?
RH: It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was a situation of being more safe than sorry. It’s the first time I’ve ever really felt anything in my arm. I’ve always had a good arm, knock on wood. It’s always felt good, and I probably could have pitched through, it but I wanted to make sure for myself. I feel great now. I felt good in spring training so I’m really excited for the season
VEB: Is that something the Cardinals monitor in the offseason? How much communication do you have with the team once the season ends?
RH: Every player has their trainer from the season before contact you to see how things are going and check up. If the Cardinals see that you need to work on flexibility or nutrition they get you some stuff that will help you get better.
VEB: Which Cardinals coaches or instructors have been the most beneficial and what did they teach you?
RH: Jason Isringhausen. He helped me with my curveball. He taught me that last year because i was struggling with it in Spring Training. We would work on it a couple times a week and I’d play catch with him. He’s really helped my curveball come a long way. Braden Looper, too, he’s our Cardinals core instructor. He taught me some small things I might overlook as a pitcher and helped me improve my game.
VEB: What's one aspect of minor league life people might not be aware of or what was your biggest adjustment to the life of a professional baseball player?
RH: The biggest thing is how much goes on behind the scenes. We put in a lot of work not only on the field but off the field eating well and taking care of our bodies. The biggest adjustment for me has been the increased workload. They expect you to throw 150-160 innings a summer and I think that has been the biggest adjustment for me working myself up and being able to handle that workload.
VEB: Who has been your biggest influence (on or off the field) in your life in helping achieve your goals?
RH: My parents followed me everywhere I played from California to Florida. They’ve always been there. They drove me out to summer ball in college, and last year they drove up to Peoria for every start I had and that was 9 hours each way. They sacrificed a lot for me and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
Thanks to Ryan for taking some time out to answer our questions. You can follow him on twitter @_RHelsley