Gordon more athletic than Burrell

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Jeff Francoeur is deservedly getting a lot of attention for an impact rookie season, but how about the far less heralded Jason Vargas? Drafted in the second round out of Long Beach State last year, he has gone 3-1, 2.89 in eight appearances (four starts) with the Marlins. He took his first loss Tuesday night against the Padres, in part because Miguel Olivo missed a sign for a squeeze play, instead swinging away and drilling a triple.

Question: How does Alex Gordon compare to Pat Burrell when Burrell was coming out of college?

Brad Ankrom
Land O'Lakes, Fla.

Question: Nebraska fan here. Is Alex Gordon going to sign or will the impossible happen and he'll come back for his senior year?

Brian Noonan
Cornlea, Neb.

Burrell went No. 1 overall to the Phillies in 1998, one pick ahead of where Gordon went to the Royals in June. Both were considered the best all-around college hitter available in their drafts. Burrell showed more power than Gordon did, not that Gordon is a slouch in that department.

The biggest difference between the two is Gordon's athleticism. He's a better runner and defender than Burrell was, and although both were third basemen coming out of college, it was apparent that Burrell would have to switch positions. Gordon worked hard on his defense at Nebraska and should be able to stay at the hot corner. He's not a burner, but he's faster and more of a threat to steal than Burrell was.

As for the second question, there's almost no chance that Gordon will play one more season for the Cornhuskers. His lengthy negotiations are typical of picks at the top of the draft. There's no acrimony between Gordon and the Royals; it's just taking time to get a deal done. Kansas City has offered him a $3.8 million bonus, and he'll probably wangle a big-league contract in the end.

The last No. 2 overall pick to sign quickly came five years ago, when Adam Johnson agreed to terms with the Twins on June 19. Since then, Mark Prior (Aug. 22), B.J. Upton (Sept. 16), Rickie Weeks (Aug. 7) and Justin Verlander (Oct. 23) all negotiated well into the summer.

Question: What do you think about Twins second-round pick Kevin Slowey? I saw him pitch a one-hitter, one out away from a perfect game against low Class A West Michigan. He looked outstanding, with a fastball consistently hitting 90-91 through the ninth inning. Is he the real deal? Or was this a case of West Michigan's poor offense in a pitcher's park?

Christian Sack
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Slowey is the real deal. He doesn't project as a future No. 1 or 2 starter, but he has very good command of three solid-average pitches: a fastball, slider and changeup. He was a third-team All-American this spring, going 14-2, 2.18 at Winthrop, leading NCAA Division I in strikeout-walk ratio (134-13 in 136 innings) and fewest walks per nine innings (0.86), and ranking in the top 10 in wins, strikeouts and opponent average (.188).

A college pitcher who can put three pitches where he wants them usually will carve up hitters in the lower minors, and that's what Slowey has done. He faced 25 batters in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, allowing two hits and no walks while fanning 15. In the Midwest League, he has gone 3-0, 2.27 with a 46-5 K-BB ratio in 44 innings. He's ready for another promotion, and it's possible he could jump on the fast track the way Jesse Crain and Scott Baker did in the Twins' system in recent years. Crain and Baker each ended his first pro season in the MWL and his second in Triple-A.

Question: Who do you foresee in the Cardinals' rotation next year? Chris Carpenter is the only guy locked up past 2005, though everyone else but Matt Morris could be retained either by picking up their options (Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan) or offering arbitration (Jason Marquis). Also, what can be expected from the return of Chris Narveson, who left St. Louis last season in the trade for Larry Walker?

Kevin Hester
St. Louis

Carpenter will be back, and I don't think the Cardinals will hesitate to pick up Mulder's reasonable $7.25 million option, especially considering that they gave up Dan Haren, Daric Barton and Kiko Calero to get him. That leaves Morris (free agent), Suppan ($5 million option or $1 million buyout) and Marquis (arbitration-eligible after making $3 million this year).

My guess is that St. Louis brings back two of the other three starters, most likely Morris and either Suppan or Marquis. The free-agent pickings look slim, with A.J. Burnett and Kevin Millwood the only options more attractive than Morris. The Cardinals' system isn't teeming with prospects, but it does offer two who can compete for the rotation next year. It's unlikely that a contender would trust two spots to rookies, but the No. 5 job could come down to Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright.

Reyes would be the favorite to win that battle, and he already gave a taste of things to come by handling the Brewers easily in an emergency start Aug. 9. He has a plus fastball that can get into the mid-90s, and his curveball and changeup are solid. He throws strikes, and his biggest need is just to stay healthy. Injuries dogged him at Southern California, and he missed three weeks in July with a strained joint in his shoulder.

Wainwright has bounced back this season after suffering through his worst year as a pro in 2004, when he was bothered by a strained elbow ligament. It's possible that the Cardinals could use the loser of the Reyes-Wainwright battle in middle relief in the majors until the need for another starter arises.

The Cardinals made Narveson a second-round pick out of a North Carolina high school in 2000, and he quickly emerged as one of their top pitching prospects. He blew out his elbow the next year, however, and required Tommy John surgery. A left-hander, Narveson has regained his stuff, which is average across the board. St. Louis sent him to the Rockies in the Walker deal last August, and he went to the Red Sox when they dumped Byung-Hyun Kim in March. Boston designated Narveson for assignment when it needed a 40-man roster spot to promote Roberto Petagine, and the Cardinals claimed Narveson on waivers.

Narveson has leveled off in Triple-A this year, going 4-5, 4.73 with a 73-50 K-BB ratio in 116 innings, but he can be a useful pitcher for the Cardinals. Though he's not on the level of Reyes or Wainwright, he's still one of the best pitching prospects in the upper levels of the St. Louis system. He projects as a swingman, capable of making occasional starts and pitching middle relief.