Ask BA

Our league Top 20 Prospects reports are in full swing. We unveiled the Pioneer League Top 20 today, the third of the 16 leagues we’ll review over the next three weeks.

Along with the rankings, the authors of the Top 20s will chat online about the leagues they covered. There’s also another way to interact with the Baseball America staff: Ask BA. Send your questions about our Top 20s to askba@baseballamerica.com (please include your full name and hometown), and I’ll choose the best ones and get them answered for you.

    The No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft, Adrian Gonzalez never rated higher than No. 31 on BA's Top 100 Prospects list and never has had a lot of hype around him. Only 24, he quietly has had a solid first full season in the majors, hitting .300/.354/.398 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs. What's your opinion of him at this point? Can he develop into a future all-star?

    Andy Weiss
    Iowa City, Iowa

Gonzalez did generate some hype early in his career. He ranked No. 31 on the Top 100 after each of his first two full seasons as a pro, and No. 31 is a pretty lofty rating. Then he hit just five homers in 120 games in 2003, and after that he couldn’™t shake the rap that he was a) the No. 1 overall pick in 2000 more on signability than ability and b) never going to have enough power to be an everyday first baseman in the majors.

Gonzalez had a lackluster 2004, which didn’™t help his cause, and he offset a .338/.399/.561 performance in Triple-A last year with .227/.272/.407 numbers with the Rangers. I left him off the Pacific Coast League Top 20 because league observers thought he was too content to hit line drives to the opposite field, and that he only did damage against mistakes rather than quality pitching. Texas, which had acquired him in the July 2003 Ugueth Urbina trade with the Marlins, wasn’™t high on him either and shipped him to the Padres in the Chris Young-Adam Eaton deal.

Gonzalez backers long have compared him to Rafael Palmeiro, and like Palmeiro he’™s developing power late in his pro career. (We still don’™t know the extent to which Palmeiro was helped by performance-enhancing drugs). Gonzalez is in his seventh pro season, but he’™s still just 24. There’™s no reason he can’™t be at least a 25-30 homer guy, which coupled with his quality defense makes him a key cog for San Diego.

He could sneak onto an all-star team at some point, but the National League already has three first basemen who are or will be perennial all-stars: Lance Berkman, Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. Gonzalez won’™t push those guys off many all-star squads.

    This summer, BA ran a short-season report on Devil Rays righthander Jeremy HellicksonPremium. He had some nice numbers at Hudson Valley, but other than the fact that he's from Iowa and kind of short I don't know much about him. What's the scouting report? Does he project as a frontline or a mid-rotation starter?

    Alan Rittner St. Petersburg

Hellickson had one of the best arms in the Midwest in 2005, but clubs were worried about his asking price and commitment to Louisiana State. The Devil Rays took him in the fourth round and signed him for $500,000. As they do with a lot of their high school pitchers, the Rays kept him in short-season ball in his first full season.

Though he’™s just 6 feet tall, Hellickson has a quality arm and projects as a possible No. 2 starter. He went 3-3, 2.43 in 15 games (14 starts at Hudson Valley), with a 96-16 K-BB ratio, .193 opponent average and three homers allowed in 78 innings. The New York-Penn League Top 20 hasn’™t run on the website yet, but I’™ll give you a sneak preview by telling you Hellickson ranked No. 1. Here’™s what John Manuel wrote about him:

Hellickson was kept on a tight leash in his second pro season, opening 2006 in extended spring training before arriving in Hudson Valley in June. He unleashed his fury on NY-P hitters with a pair of plus pitches and should be a three-pitch starter in the future.

Hellickson maintains the 91-93 mph velocity on his lively fastball throughout a game, and he does so effortlessly. He changes hitters’ eye plane with a downer curveball that has 1-to-7 break. Under the guidance of pitching coach Dick Bosman, his changeup improved significantly and now grades out as average.

At 6 feet tall, Hellickson sometimes gets under his pitches and leaves them up in the strike zone. But he didn’™t make too many mistakes, leading the league in strikeouts while posting a 96-16 K-BB ratio in 78 innings. His delivery is smooth but a bit deliberate, so he’ll have to work on handling the running game.

    Is there a difference between control and command of pitches? I have heard several pitchers described as having great control but just OK command. Is there a difference? I thought they were the same.

    Mike Sullivan
    San Diego

Though they’™re sometimes used interchangeably and are similar, control and command are two different things. Control is the ability to throw strikes, while command is the ability to throw quality strikes. Think of them as the difference between being able to get the ball over the plate, and being able to put it where hitters can’™t do damage.

When I think of command, I think of Twins righthander Kevin Slowey, a second-round pick from 2005. His stuff grades out as average, and only his fastball is a plus pitchËœmore for its life than its velocity. But because he can put his pitches wherever he wants, Slowey had a 1.88 ERA, 151-22 K-BB ratio, .188 opponent average and eight homers allowed in 149 innings this year between high Class A and Double-A. He’™ll probably force his way into Minnesota’™s rotation next year.

Contrast Slowey to another Twins righty, Kyle Waldrop. A 2004 first-rounder out of high school, Waldrop is three years younger than Slowey and doesn’™t have the same mastery of pitching. He has little trouble throwing strikes, walking just 34 in 155 innings between two Class A stops this year, but he’™s still figuring out how to locate his pitches to put hitters at a disadvantage. He struck out just 87 and posted a 3.77 ERA while opponents batted .261 with 12 homers against him.

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