Acquired in the Andrew Miller deal at the 2016 trade deadline along with Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and J.P. Feyereisen, Ben Heller was actually the first of the bunch to debut in the Bronx. His 2016 cameo wasn’t much to write home about (7.0 IP, 6.43 ERA) but his cup of coffee in 2017 provided reason to believe Heller can play a much larger role in 2018.
In 11.0 innings this season, Heller pitched to the tune of a 0.82 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. Yes it’s a small sample size, but there’s more. In 56.1 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Heller posted a 2.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and struck out 82 batters. That translates to 13.1 K/9, not bad.
Heller features a fastball that can hit triple digits but sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s and an above average slider.
When you look at the numbers and the stuff it’s easy to ask yourself, why wasn’t he on the big league club for more of the season? The answer you’re looking for is command. In 18 big league innings, Heller has walked 10 batters and plunked two, that’s about 5.0 BB/9, which is also his career minor league rate.
Luckily command is something that can be improved over time and there is reason to believe it will for Heller since his minor league BB/9 rate prior to 2016 was closer to 3.0.
What you can’t teach is velocity and spin rate. Heller’s average fastball velocity is 94.67 mph and his average fastball spin rate is 2,399.41 rpm, both above the major league average.
In 2018 Heller will have the opportunity to win a spot in the bullpen over guys such as Jonathan Holder, Giovanny Gallegos, and Bryan Mitchell.
Will a strong spring training be enough to secure Heller a spot in the bullpen as another strikeout artist? Or will it be another year riding the Scranton express?