This article was originally published at the Redbird Daily by Colin Garner, and is now proud to call the Cards Conclave home. Throughout July, we’ll be re-running all 30 Prospect articles as we lead up to Colin’s Mid-Season Prospect Update later in the month.
In Collaboration with Kyle Reis and Birds On The Black, Colin Garner presents you with The Cardinals Top 30 Prospects! Today, we have #10, Ryan Helsley.
10. Ryan Helsley – RHP
5th Round – 2015 Draft
Entering age-23 season
A+ ERA: 2.69, AA ERA: 2.67
|2017||22||-1.5||3 Teams||3 Lgs||A+-AA-AAA||STL||11||3||.786||2.72||2.99||24||23||0||1||1||0||132.1||104||44||40||7||48||0||137||2||0||9||538||1.149||7.1||0.5||3.3||9.3||2.85|
What I Like
What Ryan Helsley did across three levels in 2017 was most impressive and it’s why his meteoric rise up prospect lists is completely deserved. Let’s recap: after a dominant 2016 at Peoria (sub 2.00 ERA in 17 starts), Helsley started the season in Palm Beach. He was great at Palm Beach, as you can see in the stat bar above (thanks, Baseball Reference). What you won’t see, though, is that he struck out 24.3% of hitters in Palm Beach. Strikeout numbers have been concerning for some of our lower ranked prospects, but not Helsley.
His strikeout total is built on a potentially elite repertoire. He throws from an extremely high arm angle, which allows him to tilt his mid-90’s fastball down in the zone for ground balls (think Michael Wacha) or elevate it above the letters to generate swings and misses, like Luke Weaver.
As far as offspeed pitches go, his go-to is the curve. It’s sharp and deceiving, partly because of the aforementioned high arm slot. The biggest thing is that he has a feel for the pitch; he can throw it for a strike or dirt it for swings and misses. His changeup is still developing, but I think it can be at least big league average. The pitch has good downward action, but he doesn’t have advanced command of it just yet.
Helsley was promoted to Springfield on July 31, but he deserved a promotion much sooner. At the time, Austin Gomber, Dakota Hudson, Sandy Alcantara, Matt Pearce, and Chris Ellis were doing just fine in the Springfield rotation. There wasn’t a spot for Helsley, and so he had to wait. Helsley, who is part Cherokee, did more than hold his own in Double-A. His 2.67 ERA and 29.1 K% speak for themselves, and his cameo in Triple-A was earned.
What I Don’t Like
I hate that the Cardinals are in a position where Helsley might be needed in the bullpen on Opening Day. To kneecap his development with just seven starts above High-A would, in my opinion, be a terribly unwise sacrifice of the future for the present. (Especially considering the options that were available to help the bullpen. Addison Reed went to the Twins. THE TWINS!!!)
Where were we?
Oh, yeah. We know that Helsley had a good ERA and K% in Springfield, but digging a little deeper, the picture isn’t as great. He walked over 10% of the hitters he faced which is way, way too many. It’s more walks than Sandy Alcantara handed out in Double-A last year. Did he look ready for the big league bullpen in September? I don’t think so.
When watching Helsley’s starts in Springfield, his command issues were evident. He did a great job of getting out of jams, but over a full season, he won’t strand over 80% of baserunners. Baserunners, especially free baserunners, turn into runs over the long haul. His command issues prevented him from getting past six innings just once. Additionally, an assignment in the bullpen would stunt the development of his third pitch, the changeup, because his high-octane fastball and tumbling curve would be enough if he’s not going through a lineup multiple times.
As you can probably tell, what I don’t like consists mostly of how Helsley’s been handled, not him or his performance. The fact that he needs at least a half-season in Memphis means nothing. Luke Weaver needed another turn in Triple-A after 2016 and was better off because of it.
What Helsley’s ceiling becomes is depends on whether or not the Cardinals will be patient enough to develop him as a starter. If he becomes a casualty of a leaky bullpen, the club’s willingness to enter 2017 with question marks (at best) in the bullpen could have more serious long-term consequences than anybody realizes.
Thanks for reading! As always thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for their statistics databases. Be sure to check out Kyle’s post tomorrow at Birds On The Black, and listen to Prospect To Be Named Later for even more minor league content.