One of the throw-ins included in the Andrew Miller deal could have a severe impact on the success of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2017.
Ben Heller, despite being considered nothing more than throw in, has already started to give ’em “Hell” and could very well be the first of the package to experience major league success.
Last season, the righty was up for a cup of coffee in the big leagues in a stint that could be best described as “shaky.” Heller tossed seven innings and surrendered five runs on 11 hits and four walks while striking out six.
He also surrendered three home runs and was notorious for giving fans heart attacks during his outings, as he had a left on base percentage of 93.8 percent, good enough for fourth-highest among Yankee relievers.
Those results should be the least of everyone’s worries, as Heller was able to evolve into a reliever who could throw two plus pitches for strikes and make his way onto the 25-man roster as a mere throw-in.
Before being called up to the Bronx, the 25-year-old posted a 1.69 ERA and struck out 55 batters in 48 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with a fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90’s (has hit as high as 98 mph) and a mid-80’s slider that does a good job playing off the heater.
In spring training here in 2017, Heller is already building off the promise he demonstrated during his brief cameo last season. After tossing 1.2 scoreless innings in Thursday’s 8-7 win over the Atlanta Braves, he is now up to six innings in five spring appearances.
He owns a 1.50 ERA, has struck out six batters and has allowed just one run on three hits while holding opponents to a .158 batting average against.
There are still tons of issues surrounding Heller, despite the promise. He owns a 3.6 BB/9 ratio throughout his minor league career, will command continue to be an issue? Can he successfully add a changeup to his healthy mix of his fastball and slider?
Whether or not he can answer those questions this spring, he’ll presumably get a shot to do so starting on Opening Day. Heller’s display last year was encouraging, the unpleasant results notwithstanding.
Out of the gate, he won’t have an impact on the late innings like Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman will, but there’s enough upside to profile him as an invaluable asset to the middle relief unit while, in due time, he may be able to develop into a fine piece in the back-end of the bullpen.