Hellickson set for major league debut on Monday

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As Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times first reported, the Rays have decided to promote top pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson for a one-time spot start on Monday against the Twins.  Whether he sticks around to pitch out of the bullpen remains to be seen, but it would make some sense.  For now he is simply going to provide the entire Rays’ starting rotation with an extra day of rest.

Hellickson, a 23-year-old right-hander, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 draft and has posted fantastic numbers at every stop in the minor leagues. 

He had a 1.09 WHIP and a 2.67 ERA over 111 innings at Single-A Columbus in 2007.  Then in 2008 he rattled off 162 strikeouts in 152 innings between Single-A and Double-A, walking just 20.  In 2009 he finished with an incredible 0.89 WHIP over 114 innings including a 0.80 WHIP over his first 57.1 innings with Triple-A Durham.  This year he has fanned 123 batters in 117.2 innings at Durham for a 12-3 record and a 2.45 ERA.  Needless to say, the kid is ready.

The Rays have been hesitant to give Hellickson the call this year because the starting five in Tampa has looked great and has been able to avoid injury.  Yes, even Wade Davis has pitched well enough to deserve his spot.  Hellickson will almost certainly be a factor heading into 2011, though, and he could have a slight impact in this year’s race to the American League pennant.  Onward, Rays.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.