The Tampa Bay Rays brought up top pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson for a four-game stint in August and the 23-year-old hurler delivered in Tampa's time of need. His hard work has paid off, as Hellickson was named USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year on Wednesday.
Also named the International League Pitcher of the Year, Hellickson compiled a 12-3 record this season with a 2.45 ERA while playing for the Triple-A Durham Bulls. The righty garnered national attention when he was called up to the big club in early August to give Tampa's rotation an extra rest.
Hellickson did not disappoint in his debut. He gave up just two runs and three hits in seven innings to earn his first career win in the big leagues. He was optioned back down after the game, but it wasn't long until manager Joe Maddon called him back up.
He compiled a 3-0 record in four starts with the Rays, becoming the first Tampa Bay pitcher to win his first three major league starts. He was sent back down to Durham toward the end of August, but definitely proved himself to Maddon, posting a 2.05 ERA during his stint with the Rays.
"His demeanor on the mound is what really stands out," Maddon told USA Today.
Another standout feature of Hellickson's mound presence is his amazing changeup, a pitch he would have never developed if he hadn't been sidelined with a shoulder injury last September.
"When he got hurt, our minor league pitching coaches Neil Allen and Dick Bosman decided that when he came back he should go more with his changeup rather than curve to make it a little easier on his shoulder," Rays minor league coordinator Mitch Lukevics told the newspaper. "That's when he developed this awesome changeup."
While his fastballball reaches upwards of 95 mph, and his curve is an established weapon, it was the addition of the changeup that set him apart in the Rays organization.
"I probably wouldn't be here without my changeup," Hellickson said in an interview with USA Today at Tropicana Field. "More often than not, you're not going to have your best stuff, and with my changeup and curve, I've been able to get through those games, too."
Hellickson joins the ranks of Atlanta Braves standout Jason Heyward, who was the 2009 USA Today Minor League Player of the Year. Not bad company, considering Heyward has played 119 games with the Braves this season, batting .285 with 65 RBIs.
Hellickson won the award based on a vote of USA Today baseball writers and editors as well as a vote from readers who participated in an online poll.