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John Hellweg's Huge Step Forward: Top Prospect Performances of 2011

11) John Hellweg, 10/29/1988 -- rhrp/rhsp, High A

7 wins, 4 losses. 95.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 76 hits, 121 K/63 BB. 13 runs saved, 2.9 WAR

No other prospect in the Angels' system has raised his profile more than Hellweg, who's now attracting national attention and will surely crack most every Angels' top ten prospects rankings. Not bad for a guy who had walked 32 batters in just 31.2 innings while sporting a 6.54 ERA at the allstar break, eh?

To their credit, the Angels' player development folks saw through the numbers and gave Hellweg a spot in the 66'ers rotation at the end of June. Perhaps they noted improvement in Hellweg's delivery. Perhaps they wanted to give Hellweg more innings to work through his command issues. Perhaps they were just desperate for another starter, since the Angels' organization began the 2011 season thin on A-Ball arms. Most likely, it was a combination of all of those factors.

Hellweg ran with the opportunity from the allstar break through the playoffs. He halved his walk rate to 4.2 per nine innings (dramatically better though still problematic). He boosted his groundball rate up past the 60% threshold. His K rate, already impressive, jumped to a staggering 12.2 per nine innings. He didn't give up any more homeruns. It's difficult to exaggerate just how awesome he was from July through the playoffs in September. The Big Unit reincarnate, back in right-handed form.

So how has the Hellweg who walked a batter every inning changed into the Hellweg who only issues a free pass every other inning? Here's some video I took of him in 2010:

Next, here's some footage of him from this summer (thank you Bullpen Banter):

It's not an exactly apples to apples, since Hellweg is doing the starters' full windup in the second video, but notice how he's dramatically toned down his follow through. If you want a point of reference for what I mean, track his trailing leg: in the first video, it came whipping around, and landed at different points as Hellweg spun off of the mound. With several of the pitches, it seemed like he was trying to be more deliberate with his follow through, yet he couldn't repeat the same motion twice.

In the second video, Hellweg is much smoother. Instead of whipping around, the trailing leg now comes around smoothly and deliberately, landing with purpose at a point roughly in line with his front foot. That rids his delivery of much of its former violence, appearing to slow down all of his mechanics. You do that with some pitchers, and the quality of their stuff suffers. Their fastball drops a few ticks, or they lose the jerky movement that had made their breaking ball special (or, in some tragic cases, both things happen). With Hellweg, the more deliberate delivery makes his fastball seem all the more explosive, appearing to jump out of his hand and on to hitters before they can react. The slurvey breaking ball remains a plus pitch in both places.

This guy could be special. While it's possible that he regress in all kinds of ways, and even in the best case scenario is likely a few years away, his ceiling is as high or higher than any of the players we've looked at yet.

10) Gabriel Perez, 06/03/1991 -- rhsp, DSL Rookie Ball.

10 wins, 1 loss. 73.2 IP, 1.47 ERA, 41 hits, 76 K/28 BB. 24 runs saved, 3.0 WAR

Perez was the staff ace of the DSL Angels this year, and his story is basically the same as the rest of the rotation: great, great numbers. Now, all we need is a scouting report. The performance had to have earned him a ticket stateside, so we'll see what he's got in the spring.