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PG alum Hellickson top AL rookie

Jeff Dahn

Published: Monday, November 14, 2011

At the conclusion of the 2003 Perfect Game National Showcase at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, a Perfect Game scout already had a hunch the future would be bright for a slight, baby-faced right-hander out of Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa.

(Jeremy) Hellickson might be might be the top ’05 pitcher in America,” the scout wrote about the kid who had just completed his sophomore year at Hoover High. “His arm action is as pretty as it gets (and) it looks like he has an extra gear at release point that allows for even more hand speed. … It will be fun to watch him for the next couple of years. It’s always fun to watch the very best.”

Hellickson, recognized by Perfect Game as one of the “very best” very early in his career, has progressed nicely since that PG event nearly nine years ago. On Monday the 24-year-old was named the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year.

Hellickson, selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the fourth round of the 2005 amateur draft, helped the Rays reach the postseason for the third time in the last four years by going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA in 29 starts for the AL wild-card winners. His number of starts, ERA and innings pitched (189) led all American League rookies.

I think I’ve done well,” Hellickson told Cambridge, Mass.-based baseball writer David Laurila in a recent Q&A when asked about his 2011 season. “I’d like to do better than I have, but at the same time, I’ve had some success. … I was walking quite a few guys early on, so I had to work on staying behind the ball and throwing more strikes – more consistent strikes. That’s basically it. Since then, I think I’ve done OK. Overall, it’s been a pretty good season.”

Before his breakout rookie season – he made four starts for the Rays in 2010, going 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 36 1/3 innings but didn’t lose his rookie status – and before he spent six productive seasons at all levels in the minor leagues, Hellickson made his presence known at Perfect Game events over a three year stretch in the early 2000s.

In addition to the appearance at the 2003 PG National Showcase, he performed in 11 other PG tournaments or showcases, including the 2004 Aflac All-American Classic held that year in Aberdeen, Md. He also participated in the PG Iowa Spring Wood Bat League from 2003-05 and the PG Iowa Fall Wood Bat League in 2003-04.

He was a three-time performer at the Spring Top Prospect Showcase at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and continued to draw the attention of professional scouts at every stop. By the time Hellickson performed at the 2005 Spring Top Prospect, he had already signed a letter-of-intent with LSU and was out to impress the pro guys.

Scouts attending the (showcase) couldn’t have expected much more from Hellickson, especially in the chilly conditions,” the PG scouting report read. “He was sharp, if not sharper, than he has been all spring. Hellickson’s delivery was sound and relaxed and his arm action smooth and effortless.”

His last Perfect Game event was the 2005 Pre-Draft Showcase, also held at Cedar Rapids’ Perfect Game Field. The showcase was held only a few weeks before the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft, and Hellickson again wowed the scouts:

Hellickson couldn’t be in a better situation for the draft,” the PG scouting report read. “Only 6 (feet tall) but maybe the best pitcher in high school baseball. In fact, we think he is.”

This marks the third straight year a Perfect Game alumnus has been honored with a Rookie of the Year award. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey won the National League award in 2010 and Florida Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan also won in the NL in 2009. Posey joined Hellickson at the 2004 Aflac All-American Classic in Maryland.

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