ALBRIGHT: Tyler Consolidated sophomore Jayden Helmick already mastering the lead-off spot
Great lead-off hitters are not a dime-a-dozen in baseball.
Try as they might, managers from high school all the way up through the majors sometimes struggle finding someone capable of setting the table for their offense.
Therein lies the beauty at Tyler Consolidated High School.
Robbie Jones’ group – whose only way to get any younger would be by taking the lone junior off the team – need not worry about this conundrum.
Goodbye, Mr. Now-Batting-Leadoff: Mystery Man.
Hello, sophomore Jayden Helmick.
As strange as it may seem to talk about someone so young immediately and smoothly stepping into a crucial roll, it ceases to be shocking when one realizes the gifts he possesses.
“He’s got a great eye, quick hands, and he gets on base. He knows the pitchers’ movements and understands the game,” TCHS assistant coach Vance Ash said. “His hands are amazing. When he is batting, his movement is always forward with his hands. He takes small, soft, slow, smooth strides with his front foot, and it is hard to get one past him.”
And when it comes to his base running, nothing goes down a level. “His speed is so great, and his first step is phenomenal, you just aren’t going to get him,” he said.
Yet, it isn’t enough to just talk about his skills or how important he is to a young team. Performance, as always, stands as the ultimate measuring stick.
In this area, he certainly knows how to get the most out of what he has. Those gifts are pushed to the breaking point as he demands maximum effort play after play after play.
“It (being the lead-off hitter) is my job on the team,” he said. “If everyone gets their job done, our team wins.”
Still, he’s gone far beyond just getting the job done.
Take for instance, the Knights’ double-header against Wirt County Saturday.
The Tigers may have been playing in just their second and third game of the season, but Helmick brought the boom.
He finished the double-header 5 for 7 with eight stolen bases and and an inside-the-park home run alongside batting in six runs.
That only scratches the surface.
Right out of the gate, he put Wirt County in trouble by smacking a leadoff single before stealing second and then third in the span of four pitches. When Mason Nichols eventually brought him home, it gave the Knights a 1-0 lead on the way to putting up a six spot to open the game. It is awfully hard to recover from a crooked number at the beginning of the game.
Helmick then kept rallies alive in the third and fourth innings with three more stolen bases. Thanks to his blazing speed, the Knights put up seven additional runs on the way to a 13-1 victory.
Yet, that is just a taste of his contributions. Overall, he’s on track to possibly hear his name among the Class A elite at the end of the season. And Tyler, if it can get past Williamstown in the sectional final, may be on pace to go to Charleston for the first time in the history of the program.
Right now, though?
Well, Helmick’s going to use his abilities and willingness to trade home runs and runs-batted-in for singles, doubles, triples, runs scored and stolen bases — he has almost 50 in 19 games — to keep making it easy for Jones to construct a lineup among other things.
“Being able to put him at the top of the order and out at center field and as a pitcher every fifth day, that is just a huge deal for this program,” Jones said. “If he gets on base, he is going to score, and he is a great leader at the top of the lineup.”
But, it goes further.
“He gets everyone wound up and ready to hit,” teammate Ty Walton said.
Vance, though, takes it one step more.
“I have only coached one five-tool player in my life, and Helmick could be the number two guy. He is very well on his way,” he said. “I have done this for over 25 years and he is the best leadoff hitter I have seen in a long, long time – any school, any class.
“He has the It factor. There are not very many kids you coach in high school who have it, but he definitely has the It factor.”
Contact Joe Albright at email@example.com.