Ben Heller is a 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The 26 year old was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 22nd Round of the 2013 draft. Heller was acquired by the New York Yankees in July of 2016 as a part of the trade that sent Andrew Miller to the Indians.
Heller was able to get a good amount of work in for the Indians’ short season club, The Mahoning Valley Scrappers, in the New York Penn League. He pitched in 21 games (starting 1) and had a 3.13 ERA in 37.1 innings pitched. He also recorded 2 saves and struck out 39 batters.
He spent the 2014 season between two clubs: The Cleveland A+ affiliate, The Carolina Mudcats, and the Single-A Lake County Captains. For Carolina, Heller pitched to a 2.25 ERA in 17 games. Over 16 IP he had 17 strikeouts and notched one save. The only blemish for Heller in Carolina was his 7.3 BB/9 but that wouldn’t be a long term problem for him during the season.
He would also spend some time with the Captains and, once again, showed his talent. He had a 4-1 win/loss record in 28 games pitched. He saved four games and struck out 64 batters in 37 innings.
Heller faltered a bit in his 2015 season. He spent most of the year with the A+ affiliate for Cleveland, the Lynchburg Hillcats, and appeared in 36 games there. In those games he only pitched 34.1 innings and had an ERA of 4.46. He did, however, have 12 saves on the year and he struck out 43 hitters.
He would also get his first chance at pitching for the Indians’ Double-A affiliate, the Akron RubberDucks. While it was a brief stint (5 games and 6 IP) he did strike out 15 batters and had a 1.50 ERA.
2016 was a big year for Heller. He spent more time in Akron and continued to impress with a 0.55 ERA over 15 games (16.1 IP). He also struck out 23 batters and saved seven games.
He also was promoted to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, the Indians’ affiliate, and put in the bulk of his season there. In his first AAA run, he had a 2-2 record with a 2.49 ERA in 28 games. He saved five games and struck out 25 in 25.1 IP.
Then, in July, he was traded to the Yankees in the Andrew Miller trade and was assigned to the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
While the sample size was limited, Heller dazzled in his time with SWB. He had a 1.42 ERA in 6 games and struck out 7 hitters.
Then on August 26th of that year, Heller would make his major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles. He had the opportunity to pitch in 10 games for New York (7 innings) and struck out 7 batters although he did struggle. He gave up 5 runs in those innings and had a 6.43 ERA due to the amount of contact he was giving up.
Heller got back on track after a shaky MLB debut the previous year. He went up and down between the Yankees and RailRiders but, overall, had an excellent season.
For the RailRiders, Heller was 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA. He pitched in 41 games and saved 6 of them. Over 56.1 innings he struck out a robust 82 batters.
He would toss in nine games for the Yankees during the year and over those games he accumulated 11 innings while striking out 9. He would only give up one run during those appearances and had an ERA of 0.82.
Heller comes with a nice frame at 6-foot-3, 205 lbs. He has a big fastball, which is his best pitch, and it comes with some late movement that often ties hitters up. His fastball sits in the mid-to-high 90’s and every once in a while he can dial it up to triple digits.
His best secondary pitch is his slider which is above average. He throws it in the mid-80’s and it comes with nice depth and drops out of the zone late. The fastball/slider combination for Heller has helped him generate a ton of swing-and-misses which contribute to his high strikeout rate.
He has also been trying to develop a changeup, which he mixes in now and then to help compliment his other pitches. The changeup is a work in progress for him.
Heller has spent limited time in the Majors the previous two seasons, and 2018 could be a breakout year for him. He has the stuff to get the job done and has, for the most part, dominated every level of the minors to this point.
Heller is ready to take the next step and start getting big league hitters out full time. He’s a pitcher that has an excellent shot at making the Yankees out of spring training and could end up being an essential part of the bullpen for the season.
With Chad Green being stretched out as a starter he can move to the long relief role and Heller may be able to step in to get the outs in the 5th or 6th innings. At the very least, Heller will be up and down as a part of the rotation the Yankees often do with relievers to keep their bullpen fresh.