The 2017 season was a special one for the New York Yankees. The team received an injection of youth that had been missing in years past.
The Baby Bombers, a group consisting of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Greg Bird and more, exceeded expectations. So did the Yankees. A team playing well beyond its years came within one game of the World Series. The kids, as they say, are alright.
The scary thing is, there are more coming. As though the future didn’t look bright enough in the Bronx after a surprising 2017 season, the Yankees still have one of the best farm systems in baseball. With so many more Baby Bombers in waiting, we at FanRag Sports thought it would be fun to take a look at one each week to pass the offseason.
The last profile focused on prized outfielder Estevan Florial. This week we’ll look into a reliever with some big league experience already, Ben Heller.
Acquired in the Andrew Miller deal in 2016, Heller came over from Cleveland with fellow prospects Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and J.P. Feyereisen. While Frazier and Sheffield were the prizes of the package, Heller was the first to make The Show.
A product of Olivet Nazarene University — he was drafted in the 22nd round in 2013 — Heller is now ranked 19th among Yankee prospects, per MLB.com. A starter in college, Heller has watched his velocity take off since transitioning to the bullpen as a pro. With a fastball that can hit triple digits and a slider, he has true power-pitcher weapons. There’s also a seldom-used changeup.
With that type of stuff, the 25-year-old has a future in a big league bullpen. Here’s MLB.com’s scouting report on Heller:
“Once Heller improves the consistency of his slider and his command, he’ll be ready to stick with the Yankees as a seventh-inning reliever. He lapsed into overthrowing in his introduction to New York and got hit hard when he left his pitches up in the strike zone.”
What he has done
Heller already has 19 MLB games under his belt from 2016 and 2017, but his rookie status is still intact.
As MLB.com pointed out, Heller got smacked around in the majors in 2016, giving up five earned runs and three homers in seven innings. His minor league numbers at the end of the year were far better. He recorded a 1.69 ERA and 10.3 K/9 in 48 innings between Double- and Triple-A with the Indians and Yankees.
While it was another short stint, Heller was far more impressive in the majors last season. Pitching mostly at the end of the season, the fireballer provided the Yankee bullpen some rest prior to the postseason. He recorded a 0.82 ERA with a 1.000 WHIP over 11 frames.
Heller’s Triple-A numbers were dominant. He had a 2.88 ERA and 0.976 WHIP with 82 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings.
Despite an all-around dazzling campaign in the minors and majors last season, Heller has little shot of making the Yankee roster out of spring training. That should tell you all you need to know about New York’s bullpen depth.
Look for Heller to get the yo-yo treatment in 2018, bouncing up and down as needed. If the Yankees deal with any injuries in the bullpen, he will be the logical replacement.
That said, Heller will get a chance at proving he deserves a roster spot from the get-go. He had a sharp spring debut on Friday despite a wild pitch and two hits. He struck out three over two scoreless innings in the Yankees’ Grapefruit League opener against the Tigers.