Heller happy to be in the Mahoning Valley

Despite the recent struggles of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, manager Ted Kubiak doesn’t feel the losses are from a lack of team chemistry.

Neither does pitcher Ben Heller.

“Guys with this ability tend to merge well together,” said Heller, the Tribune Chronicle’s Scrapper of the Week. “We’re focused on one goal, and that’s to win.”

A few years ago, Heller’s goal was to get drafted. He wasn’t a big target coming out of high school in Whitewater, Wis., and after some time debating on what he wanted to do with his future, Heller enrolled at Olivet Nazarene University – an NAIA program in Bourbonnais, Ill.

Don’t worry – he didn’t know much about the school either.

“I was glad they gave me an opportunity to play baseball,” Heller said. “And I’m glad that it had a Christian affiliation. It was actually a great college experience even though it’s not a well-known school.

“I just wanted to go somewhere where I could play, prove my work ethic and get better.”

Tampa Bay Rays All-Star infielder Ben Zobrist and former California Angels pitcher Mike Overy are alumni. Heller found success, too, leading the Tigers to three appearances in the NCCAA World Series. He went 8-4 with a 3.42 ERA his senior year. Combined, he compiled a 26-20 record over four years.

Heller played on a collegiate summer league team, the Wisconsin Rafters, and set a club record in strikeouts with 63 in 2012. He also tossed four complete games with 79 strikeouts in his senior year at ONU.

“I started in college, but the scout who drafted me said I’d be a good reliever,” Heller said.

The Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians showed the most interest in the 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander.

“I was actually hoping to go in the top 10 rounds just because they were mentioning they might take me then,” Heller said.

But that didn’t happen. He had to wait until the 22nd round for his name to be called.

“I wasn’t too worried, seriously,’ he said. “I was confident that something was going to work out. Once the third day started I was just waiting for my opportunity and I was really excited when I got the call.”

He was back home in Wisconsin, surrounded by family (he’s one of four boys) and friends.

Though Heller is 0-2 in eight relief appearances, he has one save. He’s also struck out 13 batters and has a 2.25 ERA.

“This is all a learning experience and I’m happy to be here,” Heller said. ” I want to see how I stack up against the best players. I’m looking forward to some professional coaching and developing and moving up.

“Playing in the minor leagues is something that not many people can say they’ve done.”