Grading the Brewers: Johnny Hellweg


This is not an optical illusion. The outfield fence only comes up to knees. Kid is a beast. Photo: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s too bad there isn’t a grade for height.  That boy is a giant.   When you toss an extra 6’9″ on top of the pitching mound…it gets a little more intimidating.  One of the basic philosophy’s of battle is to head for the higher ground.  Johnny Hellweg is always in a good position to do battle, not just against major league hitters but also against small peasant villages in the south of France.

You will remember that Hellweg was a part of the Zach Greinke trade that also brought us Jean Segura.  Bummer Angels and Angels fans.

You look at Johnny and you can’t help but be impressed with his size.  Randy Johnson was 6’10” and in baseball folklore he is a monstrous figure.  “Helly” (Ron Roenicke‘s so creative with those nicknames…toss a “y” on it and move on) is just an inch shorter than that.  Now I am not saying the Hellweg-opter (see Ron…took me two seconds, one part Hellweg and one part helicopter. Nailed it) is Randy Johnson, but a man can dream…and Hellweg throws some serious heat…

Johnny Hellweg had a rough first go-round in the big leagues.  He certainly had his moments, but he also had some that he would like to forget.  One of those moments was his major league debut.  In case you forget, he didn’t make it through 2 innings and had put the team in a 7-0 hole.  Then in his second start he went 1 inning and gave up twos runs.  It would have been easy for the kid to get down on himself.  So when his 3rd start only lasted 11 outs, many of us assumed he was probably on his way back to Nashville.  We were not wrong.  Johnny got one more shot against Cincinnati and went 4.1 innings and gave up 4 runs.  Much better than his previous efforts, but he still packed up his things.  It must have been a rough flight.

For July and August he worked in Triple A and dominated.  With a 12-5 record, a 3.15 ERA, and a high 90’s fastball, Johnny came back to the Brewers as part of September call-ups.  What I liked most about September was watching Hellweg pitch.  You could see his comfort and confidence levels picking up.  Nothing is more dangerous than a pitcher with confidence.  He got his first major league win against our pals, the Chicago Cubs.  It was by far his best outing and gave you the best glimpse into what could be.  The kid can pitch, he just needs a little more work in the minors.  During his brief stints in the majors he showed a lack of accuracy.  It was rare for him to get through an inning unscathed.   That is something he will get better at the more he pitches.  I believe he is a legitimate major league starting pitcher, just not quite yet.

As you are no doubt aware by now, I grade players based on three specific categories: Performance, Attitude, and your least favorite “Eye Test”.  Let’s see how Johnny did.

Performance: C-

Statistically it was a disaster.  He was 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA.  Yuck.  But we have to remember that he is 24 and on the fast track to the majors.  When he was in the Angels system he was moving a bit more slowly than the Brewers have asked him to go.  An interesting statistic about Hellweg is that of the 30 runs scored while he was on the mound, only 23 were earned.  If I remember correctly he got a lot of bad defense those first few starts in June and July.  I love how he attacks batters, he just needs to work on locating his pitches.  If Rick Kranitz were to do his job, Hellweg could become a solid #2 pitcher in our rotation.  But, potential is only worth anything if you can convert it into talent.

Attitude: B

A few sound bytes here and there.  The kid seems to be pretty level-headed.  Would never need to worry about him flying off the handle or beaning people intentionally.  You can not question his resiliency either.  For a young guy to take a licking’ like that and not give up, really speaks to the type of player he is going to be.  Did I mention how tall this guy is?

“Eye Test”: A-

He has the stuff to be a staff Ace.  The fastball is very good and when it comes flying from the top of a skyscraper, it will take the sting out of a lit of bats.  Then he pairs it with a change-up that is getting better and better.  If he has a real weakness, I think it is in his breaking stuff.  When you watch some highlights of him from this year he has had some success with his curve, but that slider…or cutter (I’m not sure exactly what it is) is very hit or miss.  If he can wrangle in those breaking pitches, it will only help him turn that fastball into a lethal weapon…Danny Glover.

Final Grade: B-

There are some things to look forward too in the future, but I just don’t know if he is ready yet.  I always want to give the young guys every opportunity to succeed, but I feel very confident that he will be ready if he gets a few more starts in the minors.  You have a lot to like in this kid.  But it would be unfair of me to give him a higher grade based on potential.  At the same time I want him to feel encouraged by being a little bit better than average.  I am the teacher…I can do as I please.  Since I like Johnny, he gets the benefit of the doubt.  End of discussion.