Brooks Helton can always say he ran up against some of the best college players during his prime and got the best of a few battles. Helton, a breakout star in the bullpen for Trevecca this year, recently completed a run with the Staunton Braves in the Valley League held in Virginia. During his time at the summer league, Helton went up against several MLB prospects and left his mark.
Helton picked up a victory on the bump for the Braves and collected seven strikeouts in 9.1 innings, including a memorable one in his final start. Facing the Covington Lumberjacks, Helton got to go up against David LaManna, who was fresh off a run to the College World Series as the starting catcher for Notre Dame.
The man who broke hearts all across Tennessee when he hit a back-breaking HR against the Vols in the Super Regionals turned out to be no match for the man from McMinnville.
“My last outing in the Valley last summer, he showed up and happened to be in the lineup in the game I started. I was able to strike him out in the only time I faced him. It’s all about small victories and that was really cool,” said Helton on a recent WCSA podcast.
Summer ball was an eye-opening experience for Helton, who still have two more years of eligibility with the Trojans. He raved about his time in Virginia, where great players littered every roster and the challenge to stand out was immense. It was baseball Nirvana for youngsters trying to make their mark on the game and get a good start on the next level.
“I tell everyone if they ever get a chance to play summer ball, it’s one of the coolest things ever. You look back on it – I played against Waynesboro and they just had four guys in the draft. I played with a shortstop and he’s probably going to be one of those guys in a few years and now we talk daily. It’s a cool connection,” said Helton. “I’ve thrown a lot of the guys you’ve seen on TV or seen guys throw who are getting drafted and it’s really cool.”
As always for pitchers, sometimes the batter gets the best of you. Helton also had one of those experiences in the Valley, which included some humbling moments about his heater that is topping 90+ MPH after he fully recovered from Tommy John surgery he had as a senior in high school.
“This summer we played Charlottesville and Cole Wagner (a starter at Georgia) hit a home run off me. When he got back around, I saw him on deck and he’s telling the next guy to wait back and keep it on the back leg. I’m thinking, ‘Man, I don’t throw slow,’” laughed Helton. “I’ve had it both ways – I’m not going to run it up to 96, but I’ve been up in games to 91-92 and it feels good. The thing now is hitters are so adjusted to it now. They see 90+ every weekend.”
Listen to Brooks Helton and Will Cantrell talk college baseball with Jeff Simmons on the WCSA Podcast, sponsored by Ben Lomand Connect.
Helton’s summer of fun came after he wrapped up a year with the Trojans where they stayed near the top 10 in the polls all year. Helton was integral to their success, going 5-1 in 15 appearances with a 3.49 ERA and 34 Ks in 28.1 innings.
The Trojans were hoping to make it back to the World Series for a second straight year, but they were upended in tournament play late while finishing the year 37-15. “I’d be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed about the end, but I think we have a lot of good guys coming back. I think you’ll see a lot of me and (Jack) Keele,” said Helton, referencing the other dynamic Warren County arm helping lead the Trojan bullpen.
“The reality of it is that we were top 10 in almost every single poll at the end of the year. We can say it’s a disappointment, but we may have just played our best baseball at the beginning of the eyear. At one point, I thought we were unbeatable and I think a couple teams got hot in our conference tournament and knocked us off,” added Helton.
His role could be evolving in 2023. While Helton was a high-leverage reliever this season – his first three outings in ’22 came with the bases loaded and one or less outs – he could be in line to convert back to a starter next season. It’s a welcome change for Helton, who grew up as a starter and was one of the most feared arms in the Midstate by the time he graduated in 2019.
“I’m looking to transition into a starter role. It’s going to be fun to get back into it. I’ve always said it’s easier to execute 40 pitches over 90 pitches in a game and I enjoyed the bullpen role, but I’m looking forward to being a starter again,” said Helton.
It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Helton to get back on the bump to start games. He was already eating innings by the end of the last year as Trevecca used him in long relief multiple times. Helton doesn’t believe the switch will take much extra work other than building up his pitch count in the spring during scrimmages – “My throwing will be the same and my lifting will be the same in the fall,” said Helton – but prep work will change drastically on the days he’s getting the ball.
“The biggest difference is how you get ready for the game. As a starter, you have virtually as much time as you want to put into it. In the bullpen, there were many times when I’m sitting around and it’s 30 degrees and somebody comes running and says ‘Brooks, you have to get hot now.’ Then you’re firing off a couple fastballs and you’re in the game,” said Helton.
There’s little doubt he’ll be able to handle the job. As he proved this summer, he can take on the best and come out on top. The Trojans will need him to do that more than ever in 2023.
This is the fourth in our series of Security Federal College Spotlights coming this summer. If there is an athlete you’d like to see featured, please email us at email@example.com
Will Cantrell, baseball at Bryan College: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/security-federal-college-spotlight-will-cantrell
Bracton Womack, golf at TTU: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/security-federal-college-spotlight-bracton-womack
Emily Mikkola, softball at TWU: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/security-federal-college-spotlight-emily-mikkola