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Viva El Birdos Cardinals 2018 Prospect Rankings: #9 Ryan Helsley

Big fastball rising up the ranks

St Louis Cardinals Photo Day Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: A.E. Schafer aka the red baron has once again compiled a rather impressive list of Cardinals prospects doing a write-up on 40 individual prospects. As a convenience to our readers, he releases the list in a couple big chunks so everyone can read about all of the prospects at once. While that is a convenience to all of us who eagerly await the arrival of prospect lists, it might not be as convenient if you are looking for a player’s particular scouting report. So, as a further convenience, we are putting the individual scouting reports in separate posts to make individual players easier to find. You can find the full lists on our 2018 prospect page here. —CE

#9: Ryan Helsley, RHP

6’1”, 195 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 18 July 1994; Drafted Rd 5 2015

Level(s) in 2017: Palm Beach (High A), Springfield (Double A), Memphis (Triple A)

Notable Numbers: 132.1 total IP, 16.3% K-BB%, 2.78 FIP (PB), 18.4% K-BB%, 3.85 FIP (Spr)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Ryan Helsley had a spectacular season in 2016, pitching all year at Peoria and amassing a strikeout to walk ratio near six to go with an overall 2.22 FIP. He was probably the most impressive pitcher in the system from a pure performance standpoint.

So what does one do to follow up a brilliant season spent showing off one’s stuff at a single level? How about pitch at three levels the next year, topping out just one stop shy of the big leagues, and all the while continue piling up some very solid statistics?

Admittedly, Helsley’s overall numbers in 2017 were more of a mixed bag than what he did in 2016. His walk rate rose, the strikeout rate fluctuated more, and particularly at Springfield he seemed to get bitten by the home run bug (not shocking in the Texas League), and then begin pitching away from contact more than he had previously. Still, he handled the toughest jump in the minors without too much trouble, continued to strike out more than his fair share of batters, and added a pitch to an already-intriguing arsenal that should make him an even more complete pitcher down the road.

Said new pitch is a sharp little cutter he features mostly against lefties, to get in under their hands a la Chris Carpenter, and it’s roughly an average pitch right now. He deploys it intelligently, and so it plays up a bit, but in terms of raw grade I’d put a 50 on it.

The really good news is that the cutter is probably about his third best pitch, behind a fastball that sits 94-95, mostly tops out around 98, and has been clocked as high as 100 in the past, and a really excellent changeup that features almost straight down forkball action and generates swings and misses from both left- and right-handed hitters. I’m higher on his changeup that most other prospect coverage types, and I’m not sure why.

Helsley throws a curveball, as well, and while it’s a below-average pitch, a little too soft and loopy, he locates it for strikes early in the count effectively.

So that’s four pitches, two I would put as above-average or better, an average cutter, and a 45 grade curve that he’s still able to steal strikes with. Given that repertoire, I find it inexplicable that there is so much opinion he’ll end up in the bullpen. I mean, seriously, what am I missing here?

The risks for Helsley are basically that his fastball, while certainly boasting impressive velocity, is a little straight, and his walk rate has risen as he’s moved up the ladder. Getting hit hard in terms of homers at Springfield and then seeming to move away from contact is a bit of a concern, but he also struck out nearly 30% of the hitters he faced in Double A. I wouldn’t worry too much just yet.

Overall, it was a positive season for Helsley, if not quite the slam dunk that 2016 proved to be. Still, he was clearly pushed on to the fast track, held his own, and expanded his arsenal. I’d call that a successful campaign.

If he’s good, it will look like: Last year when I wrote up Helsley, I comp’d him to Rich Harden, because of the high velocity and wicked splittery changeup. Having watched Helsley this year, though, as he continued to diversify his repertoire and evolve into a legit four-pitch pitcher, I was actually reminded more of another Oakland A’s starter from the same era as Harden: Dan Haren. I don’t think Helsley’s change is quite as good as Haren’s splitfinger was, but it’s in that same neighbourhood. Also like Haren, Helsley’s slightly straight fastball that he prefers to throw up in the zone than down may always lead him to be somewhat homer prone. I’ll take a few extra dingers for that kind of career, though. The big issue for Helsley to get anywhere near that level will be to get his control/command headed back in the right direction. His walk rate is trending the wrong way as he moves up the ladder, and one of the most important aspects of being a Dan Haren sort of pitcher is you have to limit walks.

via Walt Hilsenbeck: