Recently, Twins Daily caught up with the talented second base prospect and 11th round pick in 2018. Get to know a little more about him on and off the field.“Growing up, I loved the game and being around it. I played pretty much 24/7; playing fall ball, playing spring ball, and in the winter, I was usually doing something related to baseball.”
Michael Helman was born 22 years ago in Lincoln, Nebraska. While football is life in Lincoln (yes, even now), baseball was the sport for Helman.
While he did play basketball and football, once he got to high school, it was all baseball all the time. But that started when he was young.
Helman notes, “When I was a kid, I was watching baseball movies all the time. I was watching Roy Hobbs and The Natural, and Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner. I always had a passion for the game.”
It was a passion that was shared in his home. “I was always playing catch with my dad, and I have a twin brother. We always played on the same teams. Even where we used to live, there was a cruddy little baseball field behind our house. We got out there a lot to play catch and our dad would throw to us. It was fun. I loved baseball, and it was how I grew up. I had a dream to make it one day.”
He also appreciates his youth coaches for continually pushing him on the field and driving his passion. “Growing up, I played some travel baseball. Probably second grade to eighth grade. I had some great coaches, and I have to thank them for the kind of ballplayer and person that they made me into.”
In Lincoln, most baseball fans are Kansas City Royals fans. It is the nearest MLB team to the city, but also the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate is in Omaha. Helman was a Royals fan, but not solely a Royals fan.
“I was a Royals fan by default, and then I was also a Twins fan for awhile just because I have a twin brother. So we followed the Twins for a while. Actually I grew up being a Mets fans. Kind of weird. I loved Mike Piazza. ”
Helman went to Lincoln’s Pius X High School. Baseball in Lincoln may not be as strong as in Omaha, but there have been several players to go to Division I schools and more playing at Division II schools, or other colleges.
Speaking of Omaha, while Helman didn’t get the chance to play in the College World Series, it is an event that he has attended most years. “I would go almost every year. I went when I was in junior college. This past year, even though we didn’t make the College World Series, I was still able to go to some games. It’s like a carnival there.”
Upon graduation from high school, Helman made the decision to head south and play baseball at Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas. Despite a solid career in high school, Helman found himself without any college offers.
He added, “The only reason I got hooked up with Hutch was because a kid that went to my high school went there and then went to the University of Nebraska. He called them up and said ‘Hey, take a look at this kid.’ They invited me to a camp, and they happened to have one spot open. They offered me a spot on the team, and I took that.”
Whatever the reason, Helman took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him. As a freshman, he hit .416/.473/.654 (1.127) with 20 doubles and nine home runs in 57 games. The next year, he played 60 games and hit .487/.567/.829 (1.329) with 17 doubles and 17 home runs.In addition, he walked 34 times and struck out just 13 times that season.
Despite such gaudy numbers, Helman went undrafted. Scouts were there to watch his teammate, pitcher Nolan Hoffman. He filled out the questionnaires and sat down with scouts, but nothing too major. During the draft, he did receive some phone calls, but by then he was pretty set on going to Texas A&M. He had several Division I offers, but he knew he wanted to play for the Aggies. A fellow Lincoln native Logan Foster was heading there, and so was Hutchinson teammate Nolan Hoffman (who was drafted in the fifth round by the Mariners in 2018).
In addition, one of Texas A&M coaches had gone to high school at Lincoln Southeast High School and the University of Nebraska. That coach is Jeff Christy who was the sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2006. He played in the Twins organization through the 2009 season and reached the Triple-A level.
“It was nice to have guys I was familiar with at A&M.The coaches at Hutch really helped me out with everything. Coach Ryan Schmidt, he was great through the whole process and stuck with me the whole way, and I’m glad it worked out at Texas A&M..”
His junior, and sole, season, at Texas A&M, Helman played in 61 games. He hit .369/.452/.520 (.972) with 15 doubles and six home runs.
This time, Helman was ready to make the jump to pro ball. He noted, “I knew I wanted to play professional ball once I got to A&M, and I knew A&M was a great place to get more looks and have that opportunity.”
Greg Runser is the Twins area scout for southeast Texas and Louisiana. He was in occasional contact with Helman. But there were several other teams that expressed interest as well.
Helman said, “Close to the draft day, I know I got calls from him and calls from a bunch of other teams. It looked like the Rockies were probably most interested, and they were planning on taking me anywhere from the third to seventh round. Obviously that didn’t happen.”
Helman fell to the 11th round, and the Twins were thrilled to take him with the first pick of the third day.
In a story in the Lincoln Journal-Star, Helman noticed that he had likely been drafted thanks to social media and a familiar Twins website he follows. He told the newspaper,
The Twins sent Helman to Elizabethton to begin his career. He was excited to get going. He thought that the time in Elizabethton was beneficial just in terms of getting back into the proverbial swing of things.
Michael Helman was anxiously waiting to hear his name in the Major League Baseball Draft when he soon noticed an abnormal amount of activity on one of his social media accounts Wednesday.
"It was kind of weird because I started getting more followers on Twitter, like Twins Daily and some other things involved with the Twins," the Lincoln Pius X graduate said Thursday. "Immediately after that I got a call saying,
'Congratulations, you're going to be drafted by the Minnesota Twins.'"
“The Twins ended up coming through, and I was glad to start my professional career. I was definitely trying to get back into it because I hadn’t played for a month and a half while we were waiting for Trevor Larnach (to sign). It was nice to get back into it and see that pitching. There were a lot of good arms there, though it was all stuff that I’ve seen before. It just took time to adjust again.”
It didn’t take him long to adjust at all. He played just twelve games and got just 40 at-bats in Tennessee. He hit .375 (1.010 OPS) with a triple and two home runs.
In early August, Helman was surprised that he was promoted to Cedar Rapids. He made an assumption that he would spend the remainder of the season in E-Town.
“Honestly, I was playing maybe three times a week. I wasn’t planning on getting called up. I brought my car to Tennessee so I could drive back home. After I got called up, my dad flew to Tennessee and drove my car up to Cedar Rapids. I was pretty shocked when I got called up. I didn’t figure I’d be up there that quick, after just 12 games, and ended up playing every single day, which was an adjustment for me. It was great.”
It’s not unusual for college players to play every other day in Elizabethton as they re-adjust to playing after time off between their college season, the draft and signing. But once he got to the Kernels, he was in the lineup almost every day. And, he had fans in the stands.
“It was great to be there. It was a little closer to home so my family could come up and watch. It just felt a little more like home. The competition definitely upped itself a little bit once I got to Cedar Rapids, but nothing too drastic changing from Rookie to Low A.”
Soon after, the Kernels had four members of the 2018 Twins draft on its roster. First-round pick Trevor Larnach played right field most days. Second-round pick Ryan Jeffers split time catching and at DH. Helman played second base, and 25th-round pick Michael Davis played shortstop. All four found success and helped push the team forward as they prepared for the Midwest League playoffs. The four players fit in and got to know each other.
“It was great to help out the team and do our jobs, to be team players. We all just kind of clicked together and we all feed off of each other, hitting the ball and on defense. We hang out together all the time, and being around those guys is great.”
Helman contributed strongly in the middle of the lineup. In his 27 games with the Kernels, he hit .355/.398/.486 (.884) with six double and two home runs.
As a hitter, Helman tries to keep it simple and put the ball in play. “My whole life I’ve loved swinging the bat. My whole approach at the plate has been established through my junior college play and at Texas A&M. I just figure, put the ball in play and anything can happen.”
How about power? Could he add some power to his game?
Helman insists. “I say I have a little power, it just hasn’t been unleashed yet. I pretty much spray the ball to all parts of the field. I’m just trying to drive the ball, and sometimes I hit the ball on the ground in a hole and can beat it out. Bunt for hits. I just compete, a scrappy player, I would say.”
Defensively, he has primarily played second base the last few years, and it is a position at which he is continuing to gain confidence.
“I played one game at shortstop in E-Town. It wasn’t bad, it was just getting readjusted to it because I played a little shortstop in high school. But my whole life, I was a catcher. The first time I played second base consistently was at Hutchinson. I got recruited as a second baseman, and I got drafted as a second baseman. I’m really comfortable over there. I enjoy being over there. I’m willing to play anywhere, outfield ,left side of the infield, but most comfortable at second base.” He continued, “I definitely need to work on my defense a little bit. I’ve only been playing second base for three years. There’s always room to get better in every part of my game, defense, base running, anything like that.”
Helman is a very competitive, very talented player who works really hard on the field, something he considers his biggest strength right now. “I would say it’s my ability to compete, not necessarily in the box, but even making plays in the field, making the routine ones, laying out for balls that are borderline, and helping the team in any way that I can.”
Away from the game, you won’t be surprised to read one of his favorite things to do. “I play Fortnite with my roommates. I love playing Fortnite.
He will spend a large part of his offseason back at College Station. Winter in Texas is generally a bit warmer than in Lincoln. He’ll be able to play catch outside, take ground balls and hit on the field.
But he will head back home to Nebraska a few times during the offseason.
“I really want to get back to Lincoln and see a Husker football game because I’m a die-hard Husker football fan at heart. Even though they’re not playing well, things are crazy, it’s a great atmosphere.”
Helman just returned from his first Instructional League. Now he’ll enjoy his first offseason as a professional baseball player. He’ll work out for baseball, and he’ll play a lot of Fortnite.
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