Yankees Acquisition Ben Heller Could Be Difference-Maker in Pen
Flame-throwing minor league arm Ben Heller, acquired in the Miller trade, could be a force at the back of the New York Yankees bullpen as soon as September.
Although outfielder Clint Frazier and starting pitcher Justus Sheffield were the biggest names to come over from the Cleveland Indians in the Andrew Miller trade, the player who could have the most immediate impact for the New York Yankees may be reliever Ben Heller, who many saw as nothing more than a throw-in piece in the deal.
The 24-year old righty was not listed among the Cleveland Indians top 10 prospects in Baseball America’s Midseason Prospect Update (subscription required), but he did warrant a note in the “Rising” section of the writeup. BA writer Teddy Cahill notes:
"A 22nd-round pick in 2013, righthander Ben Heller has pitched his way into consideration for a spot in the Indians’ bullpen. His fastball can reach 100 mph, and it typically sits 96-98. He has put up big strikeout totals throughout his minor league career thanks to his slider, and has shown he is capable of pitching in high-leverage situations, working as the closer this year both in Akron and Columbus."
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That big heater has carried Heller all the way up to the highest level of the minor leagues, and makes him an intriguing candidate for a September call-up and/or a 2017 bullpen spot. His slider remains a work in progress, but it isn’t a complete lost cause. It could use some refinement, but it will probably pass in the big leagues as-is.
The biggest obstacle to a promotion for Ben Heller is his lack of a 40-man roster spot. The Yankees have a stable of young relievers jostling for position already in Triple-A, and many of them already have a spot on the 40-man.
Heller won’t yet be eligible for the Rule 5 draft following this season, further hurting his case. The Yankees are facing a serious roster crunch this fall, and will already have to make some difficult decisions on who to protect. A guy like Heller may not be a priority at this point.
Still, based on talent alone, Ben Heller could be one of the Yankees best relievers right now. With two mediocre long-men in Anthony Swarzak and Richard Bleier currently taking up space in the bullpen, (not to mention disaster in the making Tyler Clippard), it’s not like they don’t have a need for him.
Heller has an impressive 1.73 ERA and has struck out 10.4 batters per nine innings over 43.2 innings in the upper minors this season. He looks like a real MLB-ready weapon for the cleaned out Yankees bullpen.
It would take some roster juggling to get him up this year, but it may ultimately worth it since he looks like a potential late-inning arm for 2017. As great as Frazier and Sheffield look, in a few years, Heller may look like the player who tipped the scale of the Andrew Miller trade to the Yankees favor.