Prospect Smackdown: Ian Stewart vs. Alex Gordon

Prospect Smackdown: Ian Stewart vs. Alex Gordon

BACKGROUND and INTANGIBLES
Stewart: Ian Stewart was drafted in the first round in 2003, out of high school in Garden Grove, California. He was the 10th overall pick in the class. Many scouts believed he was second only to Delmon Young among high school bats that spring, although there were doubts about Stewart's defense at third base. Stewart was well-known to scouts as an amateur, playing on a big stage with Team USA Junior. He has an exceptional work ethic and feel for the game.
Gordon: Alex Gordon was drafted in the first round in 2005, second overall, out of the University of Nebraska. He was an excellent college player, earning Big 12 Player of the Year awards twice. He won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in college baseball last season. He was on a big stage in college, thriving for the dramatically improving Nebraska program and playing well for Team USA in 2004. Gordon has an excellent work ethic and is a true baseball rat.
Advantage: Both Stewart and Gordon are hard workers with a love for the game. Both of them had high profile amateur careers, with experience and success in pressure situations. The playing background and intangibles are about as even as you can get.

PHYSICALITY and TOOLS
Stewart: Stewart was born April 5, 1985. He is 6-3, 205 pounds, a lefthanded hitter but a righthanded thrower. He has a quick bat from the left side that produces above average power. He can pull the ball easily, but he can also go to the opposite field when he wants to. He is strongest against fastballs, but he's made major strides working with breaking pitches, and shows the ability to adjust to unusual pitch sequences. His strike zone judgment is sound, and scouts have no doubts about his ability to hit high-level pitching. Stewart has worked hard to ease doubts about his defense. He has a strong arm and shows decent range, but he has problems at times with charging balls and making accurate throws.  Most scouts now believe that Stewart will be able to play third base at the major league level, providing at least decent defense. This is a testament to his work ethic; many similar players concentrate on hitting and don't improve much defensively. His running speed is average.
Gordon: Gordon was born February 10, 1984. He is 6-1, 215 pounds, a lefthanded hitter but a righthanded thrower. He has a quick bat from the left side that produces above average power. He can pull the ball easily, but will also go to the opposite field when he wants to. His strike zone judgment is outstanding. Gordon has no particular weakness as a hitter, and is capable of hitting both fastballs and breaking balls. He is fooled by changeups occasionally, but will hammer any mistake pitches. Scouts have no doubts about his bat. Gordon has a decent arm and decent range at third base. He is fundamentally sound defensively, making few mistakes although he has less natural range than some players. His throws are accurate; at this point the main thing he needs is more experience. Gordon's running speed is average, but he gets terrific jumps and will be a threat to steal at the major league level if given a green light.
Advantage: Stewart and Gordon offer very similar bats. Both should hit for average; both should hit for power; both control the strike zone well. Both make adjustments and have no serious offensive weaknesses. Gordon's plate discipline might be a hair better than Stewart's, but Stewart might have a touch more raw power. They are similar defensively as well. Stewart has a bit more arm strength, but Gordon is more accurate with his throws. Both have decent range. Gordon seems to handle balls hit at him more easily, while Stewart might have a touch more range to his sides. Both have average running speed, but Gordon is better at stealing bases since he gets better jumps.
Both players have worked hard at improving their glovework, but Gordon has more current polish.

PERFORMANCE
Stewart: Stewart had a brilliant campaign in the Sally League in 2004, hitting .319 with 30 homers and 101 RBI in 131 games. He got off to a slow start last year in the California League, at least partially due to nagging injuries, but he was hot in the second half. He came into '06 with a career minor league mark of .302/.382/.551. His walk rate is adequate, but his strikeouts spiked to once per game last season. He is currently hitting .305/.389/.561 for Double-A Tulsa, with an improved BB/K/AB ratio compared to last year. A negative is six errors, indicating that he still has work to do on defense.
Gordon: Gordon hit .372/.518/.714 last year for the University of Nebraska. His BB/K/AB ratio was excellent at 63/38/253. . .more walks than strikeouts is always a good sign. He also stole 23 bases in 26 attempts. This year, he's hitting .341/.402/.622 for Double-A Wichita, along with five stolen bases. He's made just one error so far.
Advantage: This is something of an apples/oranges thing. Stewart has a pro track record to examine, but for Gordon we're stuck interpreting college stats. Both are currently playing well in the Texas League, though Gordon is hitting a little better and has shown a better glove so far. I'd say even or perhaps a slight advantage for Gordon.

PROJECTION
Stewart: Stewart is a year younger than Gordon but is playing at the same level. He projects as a .280+ hitter with well above average power in the majors, at a minimum. If he develops along a normal curve, he could be a .300, 30 homer guy. Add a Coors Field adjustment to that and Stewart could put up monstrous, healthy Todd Helton-type numbers.
Gordon: Some scouts compare Gordon to George Brett; others think he could be similar to Mark Teixeira. At worst, he could be similar to Troy Glaus if his power comes at the expense of batting average.
Advantage: Stewart has an extra year of development time ahead of him, but both players project to be offensive stars.

OVERALL
This one is really close!
Background and intangibles are even. Both guys have high-level experience on a big stage, and both of them work hard.
They have some slight differences in tools, but the strengths and weaknesses balance out pretty well I think. Gordon has an edge on defense and overall polish right now.
Performance doesn't line up quite perfectly since we don't have directly comparable numbers, except for this year in a small sample in the Texas League, where Gordon has an edge so far.
Both guys project to be excellent players, though Stewart has a one year advantage on the age curve.
Overall I think I have to say that Gordon's better defensive polish tips it in his direction in the short run. But I expect both of these guys will be star players.

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