Ryan Helsley (Allison Rhoades/Peoria Chiefs)

Right-hander Ryan Helsley had a breakout 2016 at Class-A Peoria in his first full season of professional action.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #15 with a 22-year-old pitcher who was dominant and consistent for Peoria. FREE report!


2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NR RHS 07 18 94 2015 5th

Selected 2016 stats

Peo 10 2 1.61 2.22 17 17 0 95.0 77 22 3 19 109 0.216 0.74 0.301

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (13): Ryan Helsley was rated slightly higher during the community vote than the other votes cast here, ultimately landing at #13. This was a substantial jump from the voting a year ago, when Helsley landed at #53.

Cardinals27 was the first poster to jump on the Helsley bandwagon, noting that he has seen Helsley in person twice and he has a plus fastball, hitting 96-97 MPH, and a good curveball. Wileycard believed Helsley to be the most dominant pitcher in our system this year.

BobReed noticed something surprising in Helsley’s performance in that he gave up an isolated slugging of just .044 after his first two starts. CariocaCardinal said that he would take Helsley over Austin Gomber any day of the week. Cardials27 expanded on that, saying that Helsley’s age-21 season was easily better than that of Gomber’s back in 2015. - Jeremy Byrd


Derek Shore (15): Becoming just the third Cherokee citizen in history to be drafted by a major-league organization, Helsley had a tremendous first full season, nearly winning the Midwest League ERA title with a 1.61 mark had he not fell short on innings pitching for Low-A Peoria.

Helsley, 22, missed all of July and half of August due to biceps tendinitis but logged an impressive 10-2 record through 17 starts (95 innings pitched) with 19 walks to 109 strikeouts. The right-handed pitcher held opposing batters to a .201 average while posting a minuscule 1.01 WHIP.

"Overpowering fastball, changeup improved," Peoria manager Joe Kruzel told the Peoria Journal Star. "He competed and won 10 games after missing time with injury."

I asked Chiefs pitching coach Dernier Orozco his impression of Helsley.

"Strong kid," Orozco said. "Strong kid with a high-velocity fastball. He was able to pitch up in the strike zone and get a lot of swing and misses. His changeup allowed him just to combine with that fastball and dominate the league at the end of this past year.

"He was getting better as the season went with the curveball. He got more velocity and more tight spin and break. We just tried to help him get that breaking pitch going. He was able to do that during the season, and that's one of the reasons he had the season he had. He was improving all year long."

Stuff-wise, the Tahlequah, OK native flashed a 70 fastball, sitting 93-96, touching 97-98 and could dial it up as high as 100 mph at times. The velocity comes out easy, spotting the pitch from both sides of the plate with command issues to his glove side. It has limited movement but does have life down in the zone.

His curveball has the potential to be a traditional 12-6 hammer, breaking with downer action and bite. With good feel for the breaker, he can yield it both for strikes or as a chase offering. His change and two-seam fastball secondaries are both very inconsistent, grading out at 40, respectively. The change has fade action with it lagging behind because of the lack of conviction in his arm speed with it, but can throw it for strikes. The two-seamer has run with swing-and-miss ability, but is a work in progress pitch.

Mechanically, Helsley has above-average arm speed, throwing from a higher 3/4 arm slot. He is said to alter his arm slot when he throws his off-speed pitches, but overall the effort in his delivery is modest.

While he is not a physical guy, Helsley attacks hitters with a mix of pitches that fluctuate. The ultimate key will be keeping left-handed hitters honest, and more improvement with his changeup will allow him to do that. It just needs to become more consistent. If that doesn't work out, the two-seam fastball is another option to lefties.

Ultimately, scouts project him as a back-end starter with more refinement to his stuff. If all else fails, Helsley would be a high-leverage reliever with a power fastball and dynamic curve.

Helsley will likely open his 2017 at High-A Palm Beach with an opportunity at Double-A Springfield not far off.


Brian Walton (22): As noted, Helsley powered through the Midwest League in 2016 in dominating fashion and jumped into the upper reaches of our top prospect list after being unranked the year before. So you might wonder why he is not among my top 20 Cardinals prospects.

The answer in one word: “competition”.

The relative ranking of players is how I build my personal list, with pitching tending to fall out in tiers. At the top are Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver. Below them are Dakota Hudson, Sandy Alcantara, Jack Flaherty, Jake Woodford and Austin Gomber. The next grouping includes Junior Fernandez, Connor Jones, Johan Oviedo, Helsley and Alvaro Seijas.

Based on where Helsley is in his development, I do not see him among those in the middle tier. Among those in his grouping, I firmly believe Fernandez has a higher ceiling. One could argue whether Helsley should be ahead of Jones and Oviedo, less proven to date for different reasons, but arguably with higher upsides. But even if I placed Helsley ahead of the latter pair, it would barely have pushed him into my top 20.

In-season promotions given by the Cardinals can tell us a bit about their view of pitchers’ current readiness for an increased level of competition.

In 2016, Helsley (and Woodford) remained at Peoria all year. However, it is far from a mandate on the pitchers’ potential. After all, both Flaherty and Gomber were in the same boat the year before.

Yet, one has to at least consider what occurred in 2016. Despite having ended 2015 a level lower (in the GCL vs. Helsley at Johnson City), the younger trio of Fernandez, Alcantara and Derian Gonzalez all moved past Helsley up to Palm Beach. Less-heralded starter Brennan Leitao was also promoted ahead of him.

Perhaps the lost time due to Helsley’s mid-season injury was a factor, or maybe he was just deemed not quite ready for the Florida State League. This fall, I asked Orozco about in-season promotions for his talented Class-A pitchers in a general sense and about Helsley specifically.

“Helsley was outstanding since day one,” Peoria’s pitching coach said. “He was very consistent all year long. And that is good for him.

“I know he did not move up (to Palm Beach), but you could see that every time he went out there, he would go five or six innings. He was just getting that curveball going better and that was good for him. He can strike out any one he wants to with that velo and those pitches.”

Ultimately, promotions are individual decisions.

“They are going to have a plan for everybody,” Orozco continued. “If they think it is going to be more beneficial for guys to stay all year long with one team - that is what they are going to do… They know what they are doing with their players. They are working them and wait for the decision of what they want to do.”

I highly respect Helsley’s Peoria success, which we recognized here on the site by naming him our Peoria Starting Pitcher of the Year (members article). But this is a long-term ranking based on ultimate potential and progress toward it and I also recognize the reality that he is unfinished – not surprising since he is still in the Midwest League, after all. 

Having two reliable pitches – working up in the zone with a high-velocity fastball that doesn’t have a lot of movement plus a curve - may be good enough to man-handle Class-A hitters. But there is a reasonable risk that more of those fly ball outs may start going over the fences at higher levels. In 2016, his ground out to air out ratio was .74, including just .60 versus right-handed batters.

Simply put, Helsley needs to improve his other offerings (sinker and change up) to increase his chances to realize the potential of an MLB rotation spot in a few years down the road.

He still has plenty of time to keep working in that direction, with his next stop likely to be a berth in the 2017 Palm Beach rotation.

TCN Scouting Grade: 5, Risk: High (click here to review scales)


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