Helium: SP River Ryan & SP Peter Heubeck among Dodger prospects on the rise

River Ryan

This is the second installment in this offseason’s Helium series (the first of which, which also has details on my rough selection guidelines, can be found here). Without further preamble, let’s get started.


River Ryan

First, some background — Ryan, a righthanded pitcher, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, was a two-way player at NCAA Division II UNC Pembroke. While in the Tar Heel State, he spent one season at shortstop, and another three at second base, slashing .343/.417/.509 for his college career. On the mound, he was mostly utilized as a reliever, though he eventually moved into this rotation during the 2021 season, for what was, ultimately, a successful Peach Belt Conference championship push.

Following his senior year, Ryan was selected by the Padres in the 11th round of the 2021 draft, and the Friars intended on having him continue to develop both as an infielder as a pitcher — he slashed .308/.349/.436 in a 12 game introduction to pro ball in the Arizona Complex League. He didn’t take the mound until Fall instructs, during which he showed a fastball that was reportedly 93-95 MPH, along with a decent curve in the low 80s.

Flash forward to Spring Training, and, once again, Andrew Friedman just might have proved ruthless while operating in the margins. It got to late March, the Padres were in need of a bench bat, the Dodgers had one to offer in Matt Beaty, who was buried in LA, and, well, the kids down South got -1 wRC+ and -0.7 fWAR out of the deal (thus far). The Dodgers just might have gotten a bit more.

One of the more difficult things to do in baseball is add a pitch, and Clayton Kershaw is a prime example of this. Here’s the briefest of excerpts, from Baseball Prospectus’ Top 11 Dodgers prospects, 2008, snipped for emphasis:

His changeup has advanced to an average pitch


That said, Kershaw is also the guy who needed a third pitch to stave off a demotion from the big club, and he famously needed just one session to add his slider, and cement his future in Cooperstown. Sometimes, it just clicks. It’s unfair, but as Dodger fans, we’ll take it. I think it’s important to point out inflection points in a player’s development when we’re lucky enough to be made aware of them. That side session changed the trajectory of Kershaw’s career, and boy, aren’t we all the beneficiaries. The audience, at the very best of theaters. Moving on.

Here’s how Ryan’s repertoire looked towards the end of the season, from after his August promotion from Low-A Rancho Cucamonga to High-A Great Lakes. As the season rolled along, he added not just one, but two pitches, both of which saw rather heavy use:

To recap: That’s a lively heater at 95-97, t99, a hard slider at 91-93 (though at times it behaves like a cutter), a changeup that shows some fade at 85-88, and the aforementioned low to mid 80s curve. The slider is what’s blowing me away here — 91-93 isn’t supposed to move like that.

Also, since America loves a mechanical comp, here you go:

I could rattle off a bunch of stats that indicate positive things (rest assured, filth misses bats), but what’s more impressive to me than the numbers is the athleticism. Ryan is not a guy who spent much time on the mound; and yet, he was making mid-inning mechanical adjustments on the fly like a vet, noting his cues, and getting himself dialed back in without a mound visit. That sort of body awareness is rare, and combining that with working in two new effective offerings, mid-season, bodes well for the future.

As for the rankings, at the moment Ryan is 39th in the system at FanGraphs, 25th at Baseball America, and he is not listed in the Dodger Top 30 at MLB Pipeline at all. In short, nobody has really bought in just yet.

So, what’s next? A loud FB/SL combo are enough for a big time bullpen arm, and, given that Ryan turned 24 in August, that would typically be developmental track. Realistically, if he hadn’t added the changeup, that may in fact have been the move, but with that added weapon for lefties, and with a relatively long development runway (he isn’t Rule 5-eligible until Dec 2024), there’s little reason to move him to the armbarn just yet.

This offseason will the first that Ryan will spend exclusively as a pitcher. With the quickness he gained velocity as a pro, along with adding two more offerings, and with the athleticism that should lead to plus command, my expectation is that if he starts 2023 at High A Great Lakes again he won’t be there for terribly long. The distant R5 eligibility may be the only thing that stifles him in the near term, as the Dodgers navigate an always loaded 40-man roster, but, barring injury, the overall package should shove any minor league obstacles aside in short order, and all that will be left is kicking down the damned door.


Peter Heubeck

Heubeck, a right-handed pitcher, was selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2021 draft out of Gilman School, in Maryland, and he was the first prep pitcher taken out of the Old Line State in the top three rounds since Brandon Erbe in 2005. Heubeck was lured away from Wake Forest University with a signing bonus of $1.272 million, which was a whopping $695,000 over slot.

A brief aside — Wake Forest’s baseball program is one of the more advanced in the country, as they possess state of the art facilities, and their services are retained by a number of professional teams, who utilize the Demon Deacons to provide mechanical analysis of players via their motion capture system. Their pitching lab outstrips those of more than a few big league clubs, and they have the knowledge and expertise to use it to great effect.

At the time of the draft, Heubeck was listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, and despite being slight of frame, his fastball was already topping out at 94 MPH. A year later, he was already up three ticks, sitting 95-96, and topping out at 97, and showing a flatter, whiff-inducing shape when it’s at the top of the zone. Indeed, an advanced delivery, along with projection, and it’s easy to see why the Dodgers pulled the trigger when they did.

In addition to the projection, which Heubeck is just beginning to delivering on, he possesses advanced feel for spin, as he hucks a hammer of a 12-6 curve, with which he can clip the top of the zone, land for strikes, and bury as well. He also has a changeup that flashes big league average to slightly plus at times, which he typically deploys as a weapon against lefties. It usually generated weak contact/grounders, but the better-executed offerings got whiffs as well.

As is the case with Ryan, there’s an excellent mechanical comp for Heubeck as well, and one that’s a little bit farther along in his career than Al Leiter‘s kid:

Part of what has me intrigued is the delivery — when paired with Heubeck’s athleticism, the compact and repeatable mechanics should lead to, at the very least, average command. With plus stuff, that’s a starter for sure.

At times, the package completely came together — in a four-outing run from July 16 to Aug. 6, Heubeck tossed 8 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits, walking one, and he struck out a whopping 13. Other times, not so much, like in his last two outings of the season, during which he allowed 10 runs on eight hits and six walks, along with a whopping six homers, in just 4 1/3 innings. A couple of clunkers at the end of a first pro year aren’t enough to dissuade me, however, especially considering it was his age-19 season, he was nearly three years younger than average for the California League, and there’s easily room for another 20 pounds that should lead to another couple of ticks on the radar gun.

Regarding the rankings, the various outlets are betting on Heubeck’s upside, as he comes in at 24th in the org at FanGraphs, 20th at Baseball America, and 29th at Pipeline, for a composite of ~24 as of this writing.

In Heubeck’s debut season, he topped out at 3.0 IP, tossing no more than 61 pitches in an outing. In 2023, my guess is he will start off as a tandem starter again with Rancho, with the goal being to ramp him up to the 70-pitch range. With a successful offseason likely pushing his velo into the high-90s, he should be in the Top 15 in the system before too long, pushing for the Top 10. With further physical maturation and polish to his game, he should ultimately land as a Top 100 prospect; whether that happens in 2023 or 2024, time will tell, but the stuff in the video above is rather loud as is, let alone for a 19-year-old with room. The goods are most definitely there, and the package should get even better.


That’s all for this round of helium picks, there should be another two, with perhaps a little bonus stuff afterward.

Enjoy the rest of the offseason, folks. May the consternation be minimal.

About Josh Thomas