Bret Helton is a 6’ 3”, 230 pound right-handed pitcher, from the University of Utah, that the Pirates recently selected in the ninth round of the draft. He played both football (quarterback) and baseball in high school, but really started focusing on the latter as college approached.
“I had success my junior year, which got me thinking about baseball,” Helton said. “My senior year sealed it.”
Helton, who grew up in Colorado Springs, ended up at Utah at the last minute.
“I went to a camp at Utah, liked the coaches, but there was no money (for a scholarship),” Helton explained. “I was thinking about going to Northern Colorado to play both football and baseball.”
The University of Kansas wanted him to play baseball for them as well. He was set to go to Kansas, but at the 12th hour, Utah came through with a scholarship offer. He ultimately went with Utah because of his desire to play in the Pac 12.
During his freshman season at Utah, Helton was actually a two-way player. Besides pitching he played some outfield and first base. After his freshman season, he played in the West Coast League which is a summer league for top college eligible players. He came back to Utah for his sophomore season where he was now a pitcher only. He did not play summer ball after his sophomore season, due to throwing enough innings.
It was the summer between his sophomore year and junior year that Helton points to as a key for his development.
“I hit the weights and I would long-toss,” Helton said. “This allowed me to increase my [velocity]. The extra velo allowed me to get away with a little more.”
During his junior year, Helton was third on the team in innings pitched, being given the ball against some of the top programs in the Pac 12. Though he struggled with a 5.72 ERA his junior season, he had caught the attention of the scouts. Helton never considered going back for his senior year and trying to improve his draft stock again next season.
“I had made up my mind that if I went in the first 10 rounds I was going to sign,” Helton said. Thus, when the Pirates called his name, there was no decision to be made. He was ready to take the next step in his career.
Helton throws a fastball in the 91-94 MPH range, along with a cutter and a changeup. He uses his curveball as his out pitch, and needs to focus on his fastball command in pro ball. A big factor to his success with Utah was his cutter, as he saw improvements after figuring out the pitch.
Helton has an athletic bloodline. His father, Barry Helton, was an All American football player at Colorado. He played four years in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls with the 49ers. Bret is very close with his father and family. His dad went to see his debut on Tuesday against Williamsport. The senior Helton was obviously a major influence on his son.
“My dad coached me in football in elementary school and he coached me in baseball up to high school,” he said smiling.
Helton gushed about his experience since coming to Pittsburgh to sign. He was able to stay four days in Pittsburgh and attend some games, calling PNC Park “unbelievable.” He just joined Morgantown, but he is already familiar with some of his teammates.
“I faced [Mitchell] Tolman, [Kevin] Newman, [Kevin] Kramer and [Ty] Moore in college,” Helton said. So who was the toughest out of the group? “Newman! He had three hits off me.”
Helton made his pro debut last night, giving up two runs on five hits in three innings of work. It was a rocky outing, but it was only one start. The Pirates took him in the ninth round and put him in the Morgantown rotation, showing he’s one of their main arms in short-season ball. With his fastball velocity, and his potential if he fixes his control, Helton will be a guy to follow.