The Baseballist: A Dozen Stars Who Dominated Best Tools As Prospects

After consuming our annual Best Tools coverage this week, you might be wondering about the predictive value of these results, which are generated by surveying league managers each July. As it turns out, players who win multiple Best Tools categories in a particular league, especially at the higher levels of the minors, tend to develop into quality major league players.

That’s good news for Cardinals righthander Alex Reyes, who this year claimed Best Tools wins in the high Class A Florida State League for Best Pitching Prospect, Best Fastball and Best Breaking Pitch; and for Astros first baseman A.J. Reed, who took home Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect and Best Strike-Zone Judgment in the high Class A California League. Both prospects received second-half promotions to the Double-A Texas League.

Take a stroll down memory lane as we highlight 12 big league stars who excelled in Best Tools balloting back when they were prospects. We consider the past 10 seasons only, and while current multi-category Best Tools standouts such as Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo and Twins third baseman Miguel Sano might one day appear on this list, they are excluded from this edition because, well, all three are technically still prospect-eligible.


1. Clayton Kershaw • lhp, Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw (Photo by Tony Farlow)

Clayton Kershaw (Photo by Tony Farlow)

2008 Southern League

Best Tools: Best Pitching Prospect, Best Fastball, Best Breaking Pitch

Kershaw spent more time with the Dodgers than he did at Double-A Jacksonville in 2008, yet the time he spent in the Southern League was more than enough to convince opposing managers of his talent.

What We Wrote Then: “Kershaw’s fastball sits in the low to mid-90s and explodes out of his hand. He has a knockout mid-70s curveball, a nasty big-breaker with two-plane depth and late action that grades out as a second 70 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale . . . He also generates rave reviews for his poise, maturity and work ethic.”

Year Lge W L ERA G GS IP H R HR BB SO BB/9 SO/9 WHIP
2008 SL 2 3 1.91 13 11 61 39 19 0 19 59 2.8 8.7 0.95

2. Mike Trout • cf, Angels

Mike Trout (Photo by John Williamson)

Mike Trout (Photo by John Williamson)

2011 Texas League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Baserunner, Best Defensive Outfielder, Most Exciting Player

Trout won the BA Minor League Player of the Year award for his 2011 romp through the Texas League, during which he won the batting (.326) and on-base percentage (.414) titles at Double-A Arkansas. He first emerged as a Best Tools behemoth in 2010, when low Class A Midwest League managers singled him out for the same four honors—plus Fastest Baserunner.

What We Wrote Then: “Trout has the tools to be a difference maker in every phase of the game. He’s powerfully built and can hit for a high average with legitimate power, plus the ability to adapt his hitting approach to wherever he’s placed in a lineup. He also has top-of-the-scale speed with amazing acceleration.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 TL 353 82 115 18 13 11 38 45 76 33 10 .326 .414 .544

3. Paul Goldschmidt • 1b, Diamondbacks

Paul Goldschmidt (Photo by Tony Farlow)

Paul Goldschmidt (Photo by Tony Farlow)

2011 Southern League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect, Best Strike-Zone Judgment, Best Defensive First Baseman, Most Exciting Player

As odd as it seems in retrospect, scouts were skeptical enough of Goldschmidt’s potential that he never appeared in a D-backs Top 10 Prospects ranking or on the overall Top 100 Prospects list. A big year at high Class A Visalia in 2010 preceded a superhuman effort at Double-A Mobile in 2011, which earned Goldschmidt an Aug. 1 callup to Arizona. He exhausted his prospect eligibility that same season, thus never appearing on the aforementioned prospect rankings.

What We Wrote Then: “Goldschmidt has outstanding balance and doesn’t have many moving parts in his swing, so there’s minimal wasted effort getting his swing started. He’s strong, keeps his weight back well and stays within his swing, driving the ball for plus-plus power to all fields.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 SL 366 84 112 21 3 30 94 82 92 9 3 .306 .435 .626

4. Tim Lincecum • rhp, Giants

Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum

2007 Pacific Coast League

Best Tools: Best Pitching Prospect, Best Fastball, Best Breaking Ball

While Lincecum has been a well below-average pitcher for four seasons—he’s 39-42, 4.68 since 2012—he won Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009, his second and third full seasons in the majors and helped the Giants capture the 2010 World Series, the franchise’s first in San Francisco. He breezed through an assignment at Triple-A Fresno in 2007, one year out of college.

What We Wrote Then: “Lincecum throws a 91-96 mph fastball that tops out at 98. If that weren't enough, he also has a true hammer curveball that breaks early and keeps on breaking. Giants scouts believe he might have the best curve of any drafted player since Kerry Wood.”

Year Lge W L ERA G GS IP H R HR BB SO BB/9 SO/9 WHIP
2007 PCL 4 0 0.29 5 5 31 12 1 0 11 46 3.2 13.4 0.74

5. Bryce Harper • rf, Nationals

Bryce Harper (Rodger Wood)

Bryce Harper (Rodger Wood)

2011 South Atlantic League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect, Most Exciting Player

Harper’s 2011 campaign at low Class A Hagerstown (and later Double-A Harrisburg) is even more astonishing when placed in this perspective: He was the same age as a high school senior. One year later he was a 19-year-old regular—and National League Rookie of the Year—for the Nationals.

What We Wrote Then: “As perhaps the most heralded minor leaguer ever, Harper had nowhere to go but down. Instead, he broke through any glass ceilings while displaying exceptional hitting and power prowess as good as advertised. He punishes lefthanders and righthanders, fastballs and offspeed pitches, and uses his excellent bat speed and hand-eye coordination to make consistent hard contact to all fields.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
 2011 SAL  258 49 82 17 1 14 46 44 61 19 5 .318 .423 .554

6. Kris Bryant • 3b, Cubs

Kris Bryant (Photo by Danny Parker).

Kris Bryant (Photo by Danny Parker).

2014 Southern League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect, Best Infield Arm, Most Exciting Player

Bryant’s raw power and knack for hard contact at Double-A Tennessee earned recognition from opposing managers, and the 2014 Minor League Player of the Year ultimately led the minors with 43 homers and a 1.098 OPS even after a second-half promotion to Triple-A Iowa.

What We Wrote Then: “Bryant’s leveraged, upper-cut swing is designed to launch the ball in the air with plus power to all fields, and half of his 22 homers in the SL went out either to center or right field. One scout said Bryant had the fastest bat in the league, which will enable him to hit for average even though he projects to strike out as much as a quarter of the time.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
 2014 SL 248 61 88 20 0 22 58 43 77 8 2 .355 .458 .702

7. Justin Upton • rf, Diamondbacks

Justin Upton

Justin Upton

2007 Southern League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Strike-Zone Judgment, Most Exciting Player

The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Upton zoomed to Double-A Mobile and then the majors in 2007, taking over as Arizona’s regular right fielder three weeks shy of his 20th birthday. He held his own as the D-backs won the National League West and advanced to the Championship Series.

What We Wrote Then: “Upton spent 10 weeks (in the Southern League) reinforcing what has been written about him since he was 15: He’s one of the most physically gifted players in the game . . . His package of tools is unparalleled, prompting one scout to award him future grades of 70 (on the 20-80 scale) in all five categories.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2007 SL 259 48 80 17 4 13 53 37 51 10 7 .309 .399 .556

8. Matt Wieters • c, Orioles

Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters

2008 Carolina League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect, Best Defensive Catcher

A league-average hitter as he approaches 3,000 career big league plate appearances, Wieters so dominated that minors that his achievement with the Orioles, including three all-star nods, three 20-homer seasons and two Gold Gloves, seems disappointing. He claimed Minor League Player of the Year honors in 2008, when he won over Carolina League managers at high Class A Frederick.

What We Wrote Then: “Wieters’ ability to hit for average and power at the plate, and his advanced defensive skills behind it, made him a unanimous choice for the No. 1 ranking (in the Carolina League) among the scouts, player-development officials and managers surveyed for this list. He overwhelmed league pitching for three months, then did the same in Double-A.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2008 CAR 229 48 79 8 0 15 40 44 47 1 2 .345 .448 .576

9. Eric Hosmer • 1b, Royals

Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer

2010 Carolina League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect, Best Strike-Zone Judgment, Best Defensive First Baseman, Most Exciting Player

One might lose sight of just how well regarded Hosmer was as a prospect because his big league career has unfolded more along the lines of Keith Hernandez than of Joey Votto. Carolina League managers in 2010 were enamored of Hosmer, who won the circuit’s batting (.354) and on-base percentage (.429) titles at high Class A Wilmington as he sped to Kansas City.

What We Wrote Then: “Hosmer has the bat speed, selectivity, strength and leverage to hit for power and average. Wilmington’s Frawley Stadium can be a power graveyard, but he started to turn on more pitches and his home run production increased after he went to Double-A in July.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2010 CAR 325 48 115 29 6 7 51 44 39 11 1 .354 .429 .545

10. George Springer • cf, Astros

George Springer

George Springer (Photo by John Williamson)

2013 Texas League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Power Prospect, Best Defensive Outfielder, Most Exciting Player

Springer, unfortunately, has suffered significant injuries in each of his first two major league seasons in 2014 and 2015, but even in those truncated looks, the Astros learned that the 2011 first-rounder’s tooled-out, strikeout-heavy minor league performance will in fact translate to Houston. He dominated the competition at Double-A Corpus Christi in 2013, and nearly went 40-40 even after a second-half bump to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

What We Wrote Then: “Springer goes to the plate looking for a pitch on the inner half that he can drive, and he succeeded frequently in doing so in 2013 . . . Because his arm, speed, power and defense all rate as at least plus tools, Springer can be productive even as he strikes out excessively.”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
 2013 TL 273 56 81 20 0 19 55 42 96 23 5 .297 .399 .579

11. Ben Revere • cf, Twins

Ben Revere (Photo by Mike Janes)

Ben Revere (Photo by Mike Janes)

2008 Midwest League

Best Tools: Best Batting Prospect, Best Strike-Zone Judgment, Fastest Baserunner, Most Exciting Player

We might be stretching the definition of “star” with this selection, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that 5-foot-9 Revere, a first-round pick in 2007, showcased impressive raw tools in the minors—and those tools have played in the majors. He’s a career .291 hitter who led the National League with 184 hits in 2014 and has put runs on the scoreboard with his stolen base volume and efficiency.

In addition to winning the hearts of Midwest League managers when he played at low Class A Beloit in 2008, Revere doubled up on his Best Tools achievement at high Class A Fort Myers in 2009, winning all the above categories except Best Strike-Zone Judgment.

What We Wrote Then: “Revere isn’t a slap hitter. He has excellent bat control, strokes line drives to all fields and could develop double-digit home run power. ‘He never swings and misses—ever—and I’ve seen him hit the ball 400 feet in batting practice,’ an American League scout said. ‘He has some strength and squares every ball up.’ ”

Year Lge AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
 2008 MWL 340 51 129 17 10 1 43 27 31 44 13 .379 .433 .497

12. Zack Wheeler • rhp, Mets

Zack Wheeler (Photo by Mike Janes)

Zack Wheeler (Photo by Mike Janes)

2012 Eastern League

Best Tools: Best Pitching Prospect, Best Fastball, Best Breaking Pitch

Tommy John surgery wiped out Wheeler’s 2015 season, but when he pitched at Double-A Binghamton in 2012 many evaluators viewed him as being on equal or better footing with current Pirates ace Gerrit Cole.

What We Wrote Then: “Wheeler sits at 94-95 mph with his fastball and dials it up to 98 at times, throwing downhill with an easy arm action. Late life on his heater produces defensive swings by batters even when they’re ahead in the count . . . Wheeler relied more on a curveball (in the past), but he now turns more to an upper-80s slider with above-average potential.”

Year Lge W L ERA G GS IP H R HR BB SO BB/9 SO/9 WHIP
2012 EL 10 6 3.26 19 19 116 92 46 2 43 117 3.3 9.1 1.16

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