Monday, April 21, 2008

Two former Catfish pick up Florida State League honors

Last week, the Columbus Catfish has the South Atlantic League pitcher of the week (Josh Ragan). This week, others in the SAL were honored for outstanding performances. But two former Catfish picked up honors in the Florida State League.

Jeremy Hellickson, who played for the Catfish last year, and who now plays for Rays High-A affiliate Vero Beach, was named the FSL pitcher of the week.

With all the attention on guys like David Price, Wade Davis and Jacob McGee, Hellickson has been a bit under the radar among Rays pitching prospects, but he's making a bid to emerge. Hellickson was fantastic in his lone start of the week, a 3-1 victory over Jupiter. With the winds blowing in, Hellickson held Jupiter to just three hits, and the game was completed in two hours and 11 minutes as a result. His 13 strikeouts were a career high for the Iowan, who fanned 10 batters twice last season for Class A Columbus. With 23 strikeouts already this year, Hellickson is three off the league lead, owned by teammate Heath Rollins, who has started one more game than Hellickson.

Not to be outdone, Hellickson's teammate, Matt Fields, who played for the Catfish last season, too, picked up FSL player of the week honors.

Fields has turned around a slow start with a five-game hitting streak that has seen his average jump 150 points. His double on Monday was his first extra-base hit since Opening Day, but it began a stretch in which Fields would collect eight two-baggers in seven games. His dynamic week culminated in the Devil Rays' trio of victories over the weekend as Fields went 8-for-11 with three walks and four extra-base hits. He scored three times after reaching base on five occasions Sunday, and he ripped his fourth home run of the season. After striking out 12 times in nine games to start the year, Fields whiffed just three times on the week.

I'm always excited when a player I had the opportunity to cheer for in the past continues to do well as his baseball career progresses.

Hellickson, Fields, and other members of last year's Catfish team will continue to play well, and may very well be in the majors in a few short years. Several Catfish players from years past have made it to the show. More will. And some from this year's team will, too.

And that's one of the great things about minor league baseball. You get to see superstars when they're just starting out. It's great watching a ball player grow and develop.

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