While the trades have been quiet thus far, another minor deal has been reached. This time, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays have agreed on a trade. Former American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson was dealt for two minor leaguers; outfielder Justin Williams and shortstop Andrew Velasquez. This seems like a light haul for a pitcher who won 35 games over three seasons between the years of 2011-2013, but he only made 13 starts in 2014. Like the previous deals, I am more intrigued by what the Rays will do with their fifth starter position now than I am with Hellickson moving to Arizona. Why you ask?
Jeremy Hellickson moves to the Desert:
There is probably only one worse place for Hellickson and his career 41.4% fly ball rate to end up, and that is Colorado. Even though Ian Kennedy had success leaving the American League East and ending up in Arizona with a 41% fly ball rate, they are different pitchers. Kennedy has the ability to get more swings and misses with his arsenal. This will be a defining year for Hellickson, as the move to the National League usually helps pitchers, but Arizona is a hitter’s ballpark. Here are some of his career rates:
Jeremy Hellickson Career: 3.78 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, 38.4 GB%, K/9 6.5, K/BB 2.2
For comparison’s sake, here are Ian Kennedy’s career numbers through 2014:
Ian Kennedy Career: 3.93 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, 38 GB%, K/9 8.2, K/BB 2.9
Due to the fact that Kennedy misses more bats he was able to have some success in Arizona. Hellickson’s WHIP is not bad but in 2013 it climbed to 1.35 and in 2014 it was 1.45, not the type of trend you want with a fly ball pitcher moving to a well renowned hitter’s environment. The key to Hellickson’s success will be his changeup and sinker, which generate his two highest ground ball rates. While his changeup yields a 42% ground ball rate, the more impressive part is that batters only hit .215 against it. However, his fastball and sinker worry me in Arizona. Hellickson throws his fastball 47% of the time on average and hitters hit it at a .269 clip, but he also gives up fly balls 35% of the time while throwing it. He also throws a sinker which generates a 51% ground ball rate but only uses it 7% of the time because hitters average .319 against it. Early reports indicate that the Diamondbacks see Hellickson as their number two or three pitcher but I will be avoiding him on in fantasy.
Who gets the fifth spot in Tampa?
Here is where I have more interest, not only because I play in a high-stakes AL-only league, but Tampa is more of a pitcher’s environment and should be an interesting team moving forward. With Joe Maddon moving to Chicago, a three way battle without any further roster moves seems to be taking shape in Tampa. Alex Colome, Nate Karns and Enny Romero should enter Spring Training with the chance to win the job. Each has their strengths, but roster flexibility may come into play since Karns and Romero have Minor League options left whereas Colome does not. However, is that enough to guarantee Colome the inside track?
Alex Colome 2014 Tampa: 5 G, 2 W, 23.3 IP, 13/10 K/BB, 2.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.85 FIP
Alex Colome 2014 A+, AAA: 7 W, 97 IP, 83/35 K/BB, 3.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
There is no denying that Colome has the stuff to be a starter in the Major Leagues. He features a 95 MPH fastball that he throws 55% of the time, and hitters only manage to bat .208 against it. He’s also got an 88 MPH slider and an 87 MPH changeup, but he throws them each less than 22% of the time. Two things worry me about him though: his ability to stay healthy and his propensity to put people on base. Starting with his health, the most innings that Colome has pitched in a season at any level is 157.2 back in 2011. That was three years ago. Over the last several seasons he’s logged 91.2, 86.1 and 120.2 innings, respectively. Even if he wins the job, can Colome make it 150 innings this year? My second concern is with his high walk rate. So far in just under 40 Major League innings he has 25 strikeouts against 19 walks. I understand that this is early in his career but it is hard to rely on just his fastball. Depending on how his spring goes and who the manager is may determine his role moving forward. I almost see him as a bullpen arm, maybe even in a set-up role. He would certainly help strengthen the Tampa ‘pen.
Nate Karns 2014 Tampa: 2 G, 1 W, 12 IP, 13/4 K/BB, 4.5 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 5.72 FIP
Nate Karns 2014 AAA: 9 W, 145.1 IP, 153/62 K/BB, 5.08 ERA, 1.4 WHIP
Karns does not have the electric fastball or pure stuff that Alex Colome possesses, but he does eat up innings. Karns is actually a year older than Colome and features a 94 MPH fastball, 84 MPH curve with a knuckle curve grip, a 93 MPH sinker and an 86 MPH change that he only throws 8% of the time. One of the hurdles that Karns will need to overcome is the fact that his sinker creates a 14% whiff rate but batters are hitting .423 against it. This may end up like the race of the tortoise and the hare. If Colome comes out hot and wins the job, Karns could have it for the long haul if the problems described above force Colome to struggle as the fifth starter. While I am intrigued by the flash of Colome, Karns may end up with more wins and the role in 2015.
I did research Enny Romero as well but his youth and lack of a third pitch will force him to pitch more in AAA to develop something over than his 95 MPH fastball and 83 MPH slider. In his one spot start in 2014, Romero lasted only 4.2 innings recording no strikeouts and allowing four free passes. He does posses talent in his left arm, but it will need more seasoning or he may end up in the bullpen.
Tampa Prospect Lottery:
Even though the Rays traded a player that teams knew was on the block, they still received two interesting pieces in return. Nineteen year old outfielder Justin Williams was the 52nd player taken in the 2013 draft and has some pop in his left-handed bat. Over rookie ball and low-A last year, Williams had four home runs, drove in 46 and slashed .351/.403/.467. He’ll be a player to track in Tampa.
Middle infielder Andrew Velazquez was the second player acquired. Tampa Bay covets players with versatility and Velazquez is their type of guy. Even though he is only 5’8”, he did hit nine home runs in low-A, driving in 56. He also stole 50 bases in 65 attempts, hitting .290/.367/.428. With three shortstops in their system, Velazquez was a commodity that not only the Rays needed but the Diamondbacks could afford to part with in an attempt to fortify their pitching staff.
Statistical credits: MiLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/hsJClv (Hellickson), http://goo.gl/23bNQK (Colome)
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!