The knock against Johnny Hellweg, the Brewers number four prospect, has been his lack of command (330 BB in 477.0 IP and 80 WP in his 6+ MiLB seasons) and he struggled with it again Sunday afternoon in a start at Omaha - issuing five bases on balls and hitting one batter in 3.2 innings of work in a game Nashville eventually lost, 7-6.
The 2013 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year for Nashville (where he was 12-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 23 starts) topped out at 98 mph and his sinker induced a number of ground outs, as is usually the case (coming into action, he had induced 26 groundouts and four flyouts in his first three starts) but the 6-9, 25-year-old righty was just too wild to be effective.
He did leave with an undisclosed injury, so that may have been a contributing factor, but John Sickels graded Hellweg a C+ before the season in his Milwaukee Brewers Top 20 Prospects for 2014 post, due primarily to Hellweg's command issues.
I talked to Nashville play-by-play radio announcer Jeff Hem after the game to get his take on Hellweg's overall progress and here's what he had to say.
"The big thing that has been pretty well publicized over the past few years is, he was drafted by the Angles [in 2008] at 6-4 and he's now 6-9, so he grew five inches later than a lot of guys would have a growth spurt," Hem said. "And he was a reliever at the lower levels of the minor leagues so he's still working on repeating his delivery that has some moving parts."
Hellweg, who was part of the Zack Greinke trade between the Angels and Brewers in 2012, has only been a full-time starting pitcher since 2012. He got a chance to make seven starts and one relief appearance for the Brewers in 2013, going 1-4 with a 6.75, walking 26 in 30.2 innings of work. He also hit eight batters.
"Over the winter, he put on 35-40 pounds on purpose because he felt like he wore down a little bit at the end of last year and got tired, so he put on some weight to help him with that," Hem continued. "That's the biggest difference from last year to this year, but mechanics-wise, he's still a work in progress, like you saw today. He left the game with a possible injury, so that may have had an impact, but even so, his command just kind of comes and goes. In his last outing, he had three 1-2-3 innings and he looked amazing, but every now and then he loses his command.
"There's no one obvious thing that is still a factor, but he's still just a work in progress as a tall guy who throws hard and has tremendous movement on his pitches. He just has those spurts where's he not exactly sure where it's going."