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Prospect Smackdown: Scott Elbert vs. Gio Gonzalez

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Prospect Smackdown: Scott Elbert vs. Gio Gonzalez

BACKGROUND and INTANGIBLES
Elbert: Scott Elbert was drafted in the first round in 2004, out of high school in Seneca, Missouri. He was a star running back in high school, testimony to his athleticism, but he made his biggest mark on the mound and was considered the top high school southpaw available by most draft experts. He struggled in his pro debut, appearing to lack confidence in his stuff. But he turned that around last year and regained his reputation for aggression and strong mound presence.
Gonzalez: Gio Gonzalez was drafted by the White Sox in the supplemental first round in 2004, out of high school in Miami. He faced better competition than Elbert did as an amateur, and was seen as a certain first-round pick for most of his amateur career. But an argument between his mother and his high school coach resulted in Gonzalez losing his spot on the team, hurting his draft stock slightly. Gonzalez is intelligent and confident, perhaps overly confident, to the point of sometimes irritating both opponents and his own coaches. He was traded to the Phillies as part of the Thome deal this past winter.
Advantage: Gonzalez had a higher-profile as an amateur until their senior seasons, due to pitching in a warm-weather baseball-oriented state. Both pitchers have a reputation for intelligence. Elbert lacked confidence in his rookie-ball debut in '04, but it wasn't a problem last year or this year so far. Gonzalez has lots of confidence, perhaps too much at times. All in all, I think we can call this even.

PHYSICALITY and TOOLS
Elbert: Elbert is a lefthanded hitter and thrower, listed 6-2, 190 pounds, born May 13, 1985. As his football background shows, he is a strong overall athlete. His fastball can be erratic: it was just 87-89 MPH late in 2004, but was consistently in the low 90s last year and has been timed as high as 94 MPH this season. His curveball and changeup are promising, but inconsistent. Elbert's control is also somewhat erratic; at times it is very sharp, but he will lose his release point occasionally. He is still refining his mechanics.
Gonzalez: Gonzalez is a lefthanded hitter and thrower, listed 5-11, 185, born September 19, 1985. He is a good athlete, but has a slightly-built frame and doesn't appear to be as physically strong as Elbert. His durability has been questioned and some people think he profiles better as a reliever, but so far he's had no problems holding up to his workload. He has a consistent fastball at 89-92 MPH, hitting 93-94 at times. His curveball and changeup both rate as good pitches. His control is solid, and at this point he has more consistent mechanics and a better feel for pitching than Elbert does.
Advantage: In terms of pure athleticism and arm strength, I think Elbert is a bit ahead, in the sense that he hasn't maxed out his body yet and Gonzalez may have. But Gonzalez is more refined at this point.

PERFORMANCE
Elbert: Elbert entered 2006 with a career mark of 10-8 with a 3.44 ERA and a 173/87 K/BB in 165 innings. He struggled in rookie ball in '04, but was very effective last year in the Sally League, though not as dominant as Gonzalez. Elbert currently has a 2.64 ERA with a 28/15 K/BB in 31 innings in the Class A Florida State League.
Gonzalez: Gonzalez entered 2006 with a career mark of 15-9 with a 2.78 ERA and a 226/68 K/BB ratio in 188 innings. He dominated the Sally League in the first half last year, held his own in the Carolina League, and currently has a 2.62 ERA with a 38/16 K/BB in 34 innings in Double-A.
Advantage: Both have performed well, but Gonzalez has been more consistent. Their numbers this year are very similar, but Gonzalez is pitching at a higher level. Advantage goes to Gonzalez.

PROJECTION
Elbert: Elbert has more physical projection, in the sense of having a bigger frame he can fill out and add strength to. He projects as a number two-type starter, or a power reliever.
Gonzalez: Although he is a few months younger than Elbert, Gonzalez appears to be closer to his maximum physical peak than Elbert. However, he still projects as a number two or three type starter.
Advantage: Perhaps a slight edge for Elbert but it is close all things considered.

SUMMARY
Advantage: I rate them as even overall in background/intangibles. Elbert has an edge in tools and physicality. Gonzalez is ahead on performance and current polish. Elbert has a slight edge in projection. So overall it looks like Elbert maybe comes out a tad ahead. I'm not sure I agree with that, however, given that Gonzalez is pitching at a higher level. . .but does that override the other factors to push Gio ahead?
You can make a case either way. Which is why we do the Smackdowns, to try and flesh these comparisons out.