D-backs acquire Hellickson from Rays for two minor leaguers
PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks took a first step toward bolstering their starting rotation by acquiring Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremy Hellickson for two minor leaguers Friday.
Hellickson, who had three double-digit victory seasons from 2011-13 before missing half of 2014 following elbow surgery, will slot into the No. 2 or No. 3 spot in the rotation, general manager Dave Stewart said.
"He is going to be outstanding here," Stewart said. "I always give the guys moving from the American League to the National League a plus. Moving out of the American League East gives him another plus."
Hellickson was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2011, going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA in 29 starts. He was 10-11 with a 3.10 ERA in 2012 and 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA in 2013, when some scouts believe he was pitching through his elbow injury in the latter part of the season.
Hellickson missed the first half of 2014 following spring surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, returning July 8. He was 1-5 with a 4.52 ERA in 13 starts, and the D-backs are convinced the elbow issue is a thing of the past. Stewart, if anyone, should know — he had surgery to remove bone chips and later posted four 20-victory seasons with Oakland.
"I don’t think that is going to be that much of a risk for us," Stewart said. "He is going to pitch well. This is one guy I believe is really going to help our rotation."
The D-backs sent minor leaguers shortstop Andrew Velazquez and outfielder Justin Williams to the Rays.
Hellickson, 27, has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, and he is the type of younger, controllable starting pitcher that the D-backs had hoped to add to a group that was fronted by Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter and Chase Anderson by the time the 2014 season ended.
The D-backs will look to add another starting pitcher or two, Stewart said, during the offseason. Right-hander Chad Billingsley, formerly a client of Stewart’s, continues to be a person of interest, and Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda also has drawn their attention.
"If we can acquire another pitcher or two, I would feel very good," Stewart said.
If Maeda goes through the posting process, which is uncertain at this point, the D-backs would be in the market. They offered $20 million a year for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka last winter before being beaten out by the Yankees.
"I love Maeda," Stewart said at the general managers’ meetings.
The D-backs used 11 starting pitchers last year, and among those who will be back for spring training are Trevor Cahill, Vidal Nuno, Randall Delgado and Andrew Chafin. All-Star Patrick Corbin is not expected back until May or June after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March, and Bronson Arroyo is not expected back until after the All-Star break following the same surgery last July.
Top pitching prospects Archie Bradley, Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair are expected to open the season in the minor leagues, and chief baseball officer Tony La Russa said the trio could make up three-fifths of the rotation at Class AA Mobile.
Stewart described Hellickson as a "command and control guy. He is not going to light up the radar gun. He commands the strike zone and changes speeds."
Hellickson was understandably a little taken aback by the trade, since he was brought up in the Tampa organization, but Stewart understood that, too, inasmuch as he was traded by his first team, the Dodgers, before going on to better things.
"His big reaction was, he is glad to be a Diamondback," Stewart said.
Stewart said he was reluctant to give up either Velazquez or Williams and said he believes both will develop into good players. Velazquez reached base in 74 straight games at Class A South Bend last season, believed to be a minor league record.
Velazquez, 20, hit .290 with 18 doubles, 15 triples, nine home runs, 56 RBI and 50 stolen bases in 134 games at South Bend and was named the Midwest League Prospect of the Year.
Williams, 19, hit .351 with 12 doubles, five triples, four home runs and 46 RBI in a combined 74 games with Rookie-Advanced Missoula and Low-A South Bend last season.