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Draft : : Top Prospects
Best Prospects, Best Tools
David Rawnsley        
Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One of the more fascinating topics in any baseball draft is identifying the players with the most eye-popping tools—the players that can hit the ball farther than anyone, or run the fastest, or throw the hardest.

There are many other tools beyond those basic three that scouts grade when evaluating prospects, and we’ll take an up-close look at 11 categories in all—five that are uniquely applicable to hitters/position players, five that are inherent with pitching, and the catch-all category of best athlete than can spill over to any position.

With 2011 acknowledged as one of the best and deepest draft classes in many years, perhaps ever, it figures that any accounting of “Best Tools” this year is going to include some very notable players.

Scouts are loathe to hand out perfect 80 grades on the standard 20-80 scouting scale, and aren’t especially generous when it comes to doling out a 70, either. But one area where that has been unavoidable this year is on fastball grades, where pure velocity is the overwhelming determining factor in assigning a grade, as movement and command are considered separately.

It should be noted that when a scout evaluates a fastball, he is looking at velocity in the pitcher’s comfort zone is, not at what he tops out at. If a particular pitcher sits comfortably at 88-90 mph, but will bump a 93 once in a while outside the strike zone, he’ll grade the pitcher with a 40/45 fastball based on the comfort range, not on the rare 93.

A story was circulated in scouting circles in mid-May that one team had gone through all its 2011 scouting reports and found that there were more than 100 draft-eligible pitchers, at all levels, that had touched 95 mph, a seemingly incredible number for one draft class. But it is also quite believable for those who have closely followed the depth in the 2011 class.

In every major-league scouting system, there is a standard accounting of the grades associated with fastball velocity. Generally, it slots nicely into the following: 89-91 mph (50), 92-94 (60), 95-97 (70), 98+ (80).

Based on that scale, UCLA righthander Gerrit Cole and Kentucky righthander Alex Meyer, both elite-level prospects, have at least 70 fastballs as they have generally sat in the 96-99 mph range this spring. Other college pitchers such as Santa Clara righthander J.R. Graham and Johnson County (Kan.) CC righthander Jeff Soptic have been seen at 98-100 mph at various times, although they aren’t as consistent at that velocity as Cole and Meyer, and probably factor into the second or third rounds.

Has there ever been a high-school pitcher whose fastball grades out as highly as Owasso (Okla.) High righthander Dylan Bundy?

Bundy, the top prep prospect in this year’s draft, has been a steady 95-97 mph, and also touched 100. Numerous other high-school arms like South Carolina righthander Taylor Guerrieri, California righthander Robert Stephenson and Florida righthander Jose Fernandez have had outings where they’ve been steadily in the 93-97 mph range, even touching a 98.

Here is one person’s take on the top tools in the 2011 draft in those dimensions where scouts commonly evaluate prospects.

Best Tools - Position Players

BEST HITTER

Definition:
The ability to hit pitches of all types, consistently hard to all parts of the field. Typically, a player who might contend for, or even win a batting title at any level of competition.
Best Candidates, High School: 3B Javier Baez (Arlington County Day HS, Jacksonville, Fla.), C Blake Swihart (Cleveland HS, Rio Rancho, N.M.), OF Dwight Smith (McIntosh HS, Peachtree City, Ga.).
Best Candidate, Junior College: IF Cory Spangenberg (Indian River State, Fla.).
Best Candidates, College: 3B Anthony Rendon (Rice), 1B C.J. Cron (Utah), 2B Kolten Wong (Hawaii).

BEST POWER

Definition:
Chicks dig the long ball! But you have to be able to do it when it counts, not just with metal in BP.
Best Candidates, High School: OF Josh Bell (Dallas Jesuit Prep), 1B Dan Vogelbach (Bishop Verot HS, North Fort Myers, Fla.), OF Travis Harrison (Tustin, Calif., HS), C Kevin Cron (Mountain Pointe HS, Phoenix).
Best Candidate, Junior College: 3B Sean Buckley (St. Petersburg, Fla.).
Best Candidates, College: 1B C.J. Cron (Utah), OF George Springer (Connecticut), 1B Aaron Westlake (Vanderbilt).

BEST SPEED

Definition:
60-yard dash times are important, but you have to be able to use that speed on the field, as well.
Best Candidates, High School: OF C.J. McElroy (Clear Creek HS, League City, Texas), OF Roman Quinn (Port St. Joe, Fla., HS), OF Bubba Starling (Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner, Kan.).
Best Candidate, Junior College: OF Keenyn Walker (Central Arizona).
Best Candidates, College: OF Zach Cone (Georgia), SS Jace Peterson (McNeese State), 2B Kolten Wong (Hawaii).

BEST ARM STRENGTH

Definition:
There are quite a few top position prospects in this draft who can throw in the mid-90s off the mound, but that isn’t as important as throwing from your regular position.
Best Candidates, High School: C Austin Hedges (J. Serra HS, San Juan Capistrano HS, Calif.), SS Trevor Story (Irving, Texas, HS), OF Tanner English (St. James HS, Murrels Inlet, S.C.).
Best Candidate, Junior College: 3B Damek Tomscha (Iowa Western CC).
Best Candidates, College: OF Jackie Bradley (South Carolina), SS Nick Ahmed (Connecticut), OF George Springer (Connecticut).

BEST DEFENDER

Definition:
Includes arm strength, but considers everything else that goes into the complete defensive package—footwork, release, balance, accuracy, consistency, etc.
Best Candidates, High School: SS Francisco Lindor (Montverde Academy, Clermont, Fla.), C Austin Hedges (J. Serra HS, San Juan Capistrano HS, Calif.), OF Bubba Starling (Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner, Kan.).
Best Candidate, Junior College: SS Travious Relaford (Hinds, Miss.).
Best Candidates, College: 3B Jason Esposito (Vanderbilt), SS Brandon Loy (Texas), C James McCann (Arkansas).

Best Tools - Pitchers

BEST FASTBALL

Definition:
Not just the top velocity, but the velocity a pitcher can throw quality strikes with. This is why scouts all have radar guns!
Best Candidates, High School: RHP Dylan Bundy (Owasso HS, Tulsa, Okla.), RHP Taylor Guerrieri (Spring Valley HS, Columbia, S.C.), RHP Robert Stephenson (Alhambra HS, Martinez, Calif.).
Best Candidates, Junior College: RHP Ian Gardeck (Angelina, Texas), RHP Kenny Giles (Yavapai, Ariz.), RHP Jeff Soptic (Johnson County, Kan.).
Best Candidates, College: RHP Gerrit Cole (UCLA), RHP Alex Meyer (Kentucky), RHP Matt Barnes (Connecticut).

BEST CURVEBALL

Definition:
Scouts will euphemistically call this, “the ability to spin it”, especially as it relates to high-school pitchers; aka, “The Hammer”.
Best Candidates, High School: RHP Archie Bradley (Broken Arrow, Okla., HS), RHP Taylor Guerrieri (Spring Valley HS, Columbia, S.C.), RHP Dillon Maples (Pinecrest HS, Southern Pines, N.C.).
Best Candidate, Junior College: LHP Chris Joyce (Santa Barbara, Calif.).
Best Candidates, College: RHP Trevor Bauer (UCLA), RHP Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt), RHP Chris Marlowe (Oklahoma State).

BEST SLIDER

Definition:
Often confused with a hard curveball/slurve, or a cut fastball, by scouts and fans alike. Hitters, though, recognize one when they see one . . . if they see it soon enough.
Best Candidates, High School: RHP Dylan Bundy (Owasso HS, Tulsa, Okla.), RHP Kyle Crick (Sherman, Texas, HS), RHP Jose Fernandez (Alonso HS, Tampa).
Best Candidate, Junior College: RHP Jeff Ames (Lower Columbia, Wash.).
Best Candidates, College: LHP Andrew Chafin (Kent State), RHP Gerrit Cole (UCLA), LHP Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech).

BEST CHANGEUP

Definition:
More of a learned skill than physical tool, but often the missing ingredient needed for upper-level success.
Best Candidates, High School: RHP Aaron Nola (Catholic HS, Baton Rouge, La.), RHP Tyler Beede (Lawrence Academy, Groton, Mass.), RHP John Magliozzi (The Dexter School, Milton, Mass.).
Best Candidate, Junior College: LHP Nick Lee (Weatherford, Texas).
Best Candidates, College: RHP John Stilson (Texas A&M), LHP Danny Hultzen (Virginia), LHP Tyler Anderson (Oregon).

BEST COMMAND

Definition:
Also referred to as “pitchability”; it isn’t just who has the fewest walks, it’s who can throw all their pitches where they want, when they want.
Best Candidates, High School: RHP Dylan Bundy (Owasso HS, Tulsa, Okla.), RHP Hudson Boyd (Bishop Verot HS, Cape Coral, Fla.), LHP Henry Owens (Edison HS, Huntington Beach, Calif.).
Best Candidate, Junior College: LHP Miguel Pena (San Jacinto, Texas).
Best Candidates, College: RHP Taylor Jungmann (Texas), LHP Danny Hultzen (Virginia), LHP Sean Gilmartin (Florida State).

Best Tools - General

BEST ATHLETE

Definition:
Often confused with a player who is a stud in another sport; coincidently, not someone who excels at everything athletically.
Best Candidates, High School: OF Bubba Starling, (Gardner-Edgerton HS, Gardner, Kan.), SS Johnny Eierman (Warsaw, Mo., HS), OF Brandon Nimmo (East Cheyenne, Wyo., HS).
Best Candidate, Junior College: OF Brian Goodwin (Miami-Dade, Fla.).
Best Candidates, College: OF Mikie Mahtook (Louisiana State), OF George Springer (Connecticut), RHP Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt).



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