The Rays have a nice problem in Jeremy Hellickson. His is one of the top prospects in baseball and already has dominated triple-A batters striking out 70 and walking just 15 in 57.1 innings last year. But with all five of the starting pitchers returning from last year, there is no immediate need for Hellboy on the big league roster.
Still, most think Hellickson will make his big league debut at some point in 2010. But the Rays have always been adamant that the needs of the prospect outweigh the needs of the team. In other words, Hellickson will not be promoted until the team feels he is ready.
And when might that be?
First there is the innings limit the Rays will impose on Hellickson this season. The Rays prefer to limit their pitchers to a 20% increase over the previous season and Hellickson only threw 114 innings in 2009. That would mean a limit of approximately 140 innings this year. A full season in the minors would be closer to 160 innings. So even if the Rays waited until September and used Hellickson out of the bullpen, there is a very good chance he will have already exceeded his innings limit for 2010.
Next, let’s look at Hellickson’s experience and compare that to the Rays last two top pitching prospects, David Price and Wade Davis. Specifically let’s look at how many seasons and innings pitched each had since high school before they entered the Rays rotation…
Price shot through the minors and the lack of experience may have hindered him in 2009. He struggled at times and had a difficult time working deep into games averaging less than 6 innings per start. Meanwhile, Davis looked much more polished and composed as a starting pitcher, albeit in a small sampled size (6 starts).
The Rays have always said that when a prospect is ready is more than just numbers. They believe that it is also important that the prospect spend enough time in the minors that they learn to handle many different obstacles.
Everybody is excited to see what the Rays next great pitching prospect can do at the big league lever, but we may just have to wait until until 2011.