ST. PETERSBURG — Jeremy Hellickson had heard rumors for several days, but it wasn't until he got official word Friday night that the reality hit him: The Rays had traded him to Arizona.
"Kind of shocked a little bit," Hellickson said by phone. "Mixed emotions."
The deal netted the Rays two lower-level prospects, shortstop Andrew Velazquez and outfielder Justin Williams, who are likely headed to Class A Bowling Green.
As important, it eliminates about $4 million in salary that Hellickson was projected to make via arbitration and opens another needed spot on the 40-man roster as the Rays in the next week have to add several prospects to protect them from being eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
"I'm definitely excited to get over there to Arizona and get back to the pitcher I was," Hellickson, 27, said. "I'd heard enough rumors so you kind of expect something, but I'm definitely kind of shocked. I'm definitely going to miss a lot of people over there."
Hellickson is coming off two rough seasons (13-15, 5.00) with arthroscopic elbow surgery in between. The Rays feel set with a rotation that has Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly returning, Matt Moore expected back from elbow surgery by midseason, and Alex Colome and Nathan Karns among those to fill in.
Rays baseball operations chief Matt Silverman said the new prospects "have the potential to become impact players at the major-league level, and we are excited to add them to our player development pipeline."
Velazquez, 20, seems the better player, a Class A Midwest League All-Star and top prospect after hitting .290 with nine home runs and 50 steals for South Bend, with a streak of reaching base in 74 consecutive games. Williams, 19, won the rookie-level Pioneer League batting title at .386 before a promotion to South Bend.