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The Pittsburgh Pirates have agreed to a deal with free agent relief pitcher Ben Heller. It is a minor league contract and Heller will be reporting to spring training.
Heller, 32, was a 22nd round selection by the Cleveland Indians in the 2013 MLB Draft. He started professionally in low A ball for Mahoning County in 2013 and then had a steady rise through the Indians' organization.
In 2016, the Indians traded Heller along with Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and J.P. Feyereisen to the Yankees for Andrew Miller. The Yankees promoted Heller to the major league roster on August 11th, but he was returned to the minors without entering a game. The Yankees once again promoted him later in August and he played in 10 games and had a 6.43 ERA in 7 innings pitched.
During the 2017 season, Heller split his time between the Yankees and their Triple A affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His time in the majors was once again brief, pitching 11 innings with a 0.82 ERA.
In April of 2018, Heller underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season. For the next couple of seasons he only pitched in 12 games total in the majors, totaling 13 innings. Between 2021-2022,he pitched in the Arizona, Minnesota and Tampa Bay organizations and missed most of 2021 with an elbow stress fracture.
Last season with the Atlanta Braves, Heller set career highs by playing in 19 games with 19 and pitching 18.2 innings. He was a solid contributor for Atlanta down the stretch and finished the year with a respectable 3.86 ERA.
Ben Heller throws a fastball, cutter, changeup and slider. His fastball sits around 94-95 mph and he has hit triple digits a time or two during the off-season working out at BRX Performance. In the minor leagues, he has been successful in closing games and strikes out over a hitter per inning. He’s shown to have limited stamina, not throwing to more than 4-5 hitters in an outing. He does not give up a lot of homeruns and when he is getting hit, it's usually not for power.
Draft 412 believes Ben Heller might be a part of the 2024 bullpen. He most likely will be a pitcher called upon to get an out or 2 in the middle of an inning and won’t likely make more than 30-35 appearances. This is a low-risk move for the big club and Heller could end up being a nice addition to the pen.