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St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospects: #15

Every other day over the next two months, John Nagel and Kyle Reis will announce a new prospect on The Redbird Daily’s Top 30 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect List. For each prospect, John and Kyle will reveal where that prospect landed on their personal lists and also few thoughts on the prospect. We hope you enjoy!

Prospect #15: Ryan Helsley – 5th Round, 2015

2016 Stats: Peoria – 10-2, 1.61 ERA, 95 IP, 109 K, 19 BB

Kyle Reis (Prospect #11 On Personal List)

Say it with me everyone; “DARK HORSE”.

Helsley, an Oklahoma native with Cherokee ancestry that would make the 400+ mile trip to Busch with his dad to watch the Cardinals, has been completely overlooked by many national ranking systems. MLB Pipeline didn’t put him in the Cardinals Top 30, yet they had Chris Ellis on their list. Sickles didn’t have him in their Top 20, but had John Gant 12th. Keith Law didn’t have him in his Top 20, but in “defense” of Keith he really doesn’t have any idea what’s going on in the Cardinals system, as you’ll learn if you follow the link. My favorite of all, Fangraphs didn’t have him in their organizational Top 24. They had Andrew Morales at #21, but no Helsley. They also wrote little blurbs about 19 other prospects in the system without mentioning Helsley.

In my opinion, Helsley had the most polished and dominant season of any of the Cardinals pitching prospects during the 2016 season. His K/BB rate was an impressive  5.74. To Compare, at the same level in 2001 Adam Wainwright had a K/BB of 3.83 and in 2011 in a limited 8 starts Carlos Martinez had a rate of 3.57. He also only surrendered 3 HR in 2016. Pair his K/BB rate and HR allowed with that beautiful stat line at the top of this article and you have a prospect that deserves to be in every Top 20 list of Cardinals Prospects.

So the question is why is a player this dominant not getting more attention? First, Helsley was a little old for the Midwest league in 2016, but he was still younger than the average player. It’s tough to get a gauge on a 21 turned 22 year old player in A ball. Both Waino and CMart were 19 when they pitched at that level. He was also passed up for mid season promotions by Sandy Alcantara, Junior Fernandez, and lesser known prospect Brennan Leitao. That tells me that the organization is concerned about either the repeatability of his delivery or his secondary stuff if not both. Some concern has been expressed about his effectiveness against lefties, but he held lefties to a .250 AVG and an OPS of 612 while only allowing 2 HR in 179 PA in 2016.

Helsley’s fastball is electric. It sits 94-96, but he isn’t afraid to dial it up to the high 90’s. As I mentioned, his secondary stuff is still a work in progress. I’ve heard that his curveball, while still inconsistent, is really coming along and is showing signs of becoming a plus pitch. The development of his change up that shows good fade will be the thing to watch this season. His 2-seamer is good enough to be a 4th pitch if that change up develops into an average offering.

I predict that Helsley will be the break out pitching prospect of 2017 for the Cardinals. It’s a dangerous claim to make with so many questions about his secondary stuff, but that fastball is too electric to discount. When I look at Helsley I see a lot of Anthony DeSclafani or a combo of Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer, if Trevor Bauer wasn’t a complete headcase/nutjob.

*I’d like to issue a formal apology to Neal Hellner on Twitter and Trevor Bauer on the Indians for my insensitive comments about being a headcase* – Kyle

John Nagel (Prospect #18 On Personal List)

While I ranked Ryan Helsley much lower than Kyle, I do like him as a prospect, I am just not sure what the future holds for him. He may have had one of (if not the) best season for any pitcher in the Cardinals minor league season in 2016, but I still have some questions.

First, Helsley went 10-2 with an awesome 1.61/2.22 ERA/FIP split. What is probably more impressive is his 10 plus strikeouts per 9 innings and his under-2 walks per nine innings. Combine all of those things and you have a really really good season.

As for my concern, Helsley stranded 80% of the runners he had on base in 2016, which is about 5-7% higher than normal. This explains why his ERA was pretty low. Now, his 10.33 k/9 also can explain that high LOB%, but I would expect that to drop to around 75% this year, which would cause his ERA to rise.

Helsley is a little older for someone you might consider a top prospect at his minor league level. In 2016, he was slightly younger than league average. Take Jake Woodford (someone I have ranked higher than Helsley) for example. Woodford was nearly three years younger than the Midwest League average in 2016, while Helsley was a little less than one year younger.

Another concern I have is with Helsley’s “stuff”. As Kyle mentioned, he has a blazing fastball that has touched 100 in the past. The concern is with his secondary pitches. To be an effective starter, Helsley would have to keep developing that curve, but also develop a third pitch. This makes me think that he could be headed to the bullpen, but could be really good out of it. However, bullpen arms do not translate to good prospects.

Ryan Helsley should start 2017 with (at least) Palm Beach. With the talk that Sandy Alcantara could jump to Double-A Springfield, Helsley should fit in at High-A Palm Beach. I would hope he would get promoted mid-season to Springfield.


How we rank prospects: Click Here
Best of The Rest: Click Here
#30 Prospect: Daniel Poncedeleon
#29 Prospect: Jonathan Machado
#28 Prospect: Jeremy Martinez
#27 Prospect: John Gant
#26 Prospect: Alvaro Seijas
#25 Prospect: Nick Plummer
#24 Prospect: Jordan Hicks
#23 Prospect: Zac Gallen
#22 Prospect: Bryce Denton
#21 Prospect: Johan Oviedo
#20 Propsect: Randy Arozarena
#19 Prospect: Connor Jones
#18 Prospect: Dylan Carlson
#17 Prospect: Ronnie Williams
#16 Prospect: Paul DeJong
#15 Prospect: Ryan Helsley
#14 Prospect: 3/7
#13 Prospect: 3/9
#12 Prospect: 3/11
#11 Prospect: 3/13
#10 Prospect: 3/15
#9 Prospect: 3/17
#8 Prospect: 3/19
#7 Prospect: 3/21
#6 Prospect: 3/23
#5 Prospect: 3/25
#4 Prospect: 3/27
#3 Prospect: 3/29
#2 Prospect: 3/31
#1 Prospect: 4/2

Kyle Reis
Kyle is a South City St Louis born and raised. He is 30 years old and grew up at old Busch Stadium. His favorite Cardinals player of all time is Ray Lankford. Kyle is an overly simple person who loves countable baseball statistics, following minor league baseball, and friendly discourse. He tends to not take people seriously that refer for the team that they root for as "we" instead of "them".
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