2017 Best Tools: White Sox Stand Out Among Minors’ Tools

Scouts talk about tools more than your nearest AutoZone or Sears Craftsman dealer. Skills are important, and eventually skills are what get players paid in the big leagues, but tools are the building blocks of everything a player does.

So as the 2017 season nears, we rounded up the best-of-the-best around the minors. Players had to be prospect eligible and, with few exceptions, we limited this list to players who made the Prospect Handbook. In our conversations with scouts we focus on tools of legitimate major league prospects, so a top-of-the-scale throwing arm on a .210-hitting 24-year-old outfielder in low Class A doesn’t earn a spot on the list.

We’ve tried to update these lists based on injuries as well. Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes would have ranked No. 1 on the list of best curveballs, for example, but after having Tommy John surgery he’s out for 2017.

Best Athlete

1. Yoan Moncada, 2b, White Sox

As one scout explained, athletes like Moncada rarely play baseball if they grow up in the U.S. because they generally end up on the football field. Moncada has the powerful build of a running back, with stocky strength and explosive speed. That power and quick-twitch athleticism give him a chance to be a future 20-20 man at the big league level.

“I’ve never seen so many tools together in one player,” a minor league manager who watched Moncada last year said. “I’ve never seen a player who has so many skills. He needs to continue to work on (some) parts of his game, but he has the speed-power combination. It’s hard to find a guy like that. The closest player I’ve seen to him in the past 20 years is (a young) Carlos Beltran.”

2. Anthony Alford, of, Blue Jays

3. Taylor Trammell, of, Reds

4. Jorge Mateo, ss/2b/of, Yankees

5. Roman Quinn, of, Phillies

Best Hitter for Average

1. Andrew Benintendi, of, Red Sox

Benintendi is as close to a sure bet as there is among position prospects. Scouts may debate whether he’ll end up as a 15-20 home run hitter or one who hits 25-30, but it’s hard to find an evaluator who doesn’t see a future .280-plus hitter, with many being comfortable saying he’s got .300 averages in his future.

“He has such a nice swing,” a minor league manager who saw Benintendi last season said. “It’s one of the nicest swings you’ll see. It’s smooth and it stays through the zone the whole time. He could be a 15-20 home run guy in the big leagues, but I don’t know where it comes from. He hits it like a guy who’s 220-240 pounds. He has bat speed.”

2. Ozzie Albies, 2b, Braves

3. Nick Senzel, 3b, Reds

4. Eloy Jimenez, of, Cubs

5. Luis Urias, 2b, Padres

Best Power Hitter

1. Eloy Jimenez, of, Cubs

There are sluggers on this list with better pure raw power, but what gives Jimenez an advantage over his fellow thumpers is his ability to get to his power consistently. Jimenez’s hitting ability combines with lofty power potential to give him a chance to hit 30-plus home runs regularly in the future.

“It’s scary how good this guy can be,” one Cubs coach said.

“With his swing path and hit tool, the plate coverage is pretty special,” another Cubs coach added.

2. Cody Bellinger, 1b/of, Dodgers

3. Hunter Renfroe, of, Padres

4. Aaron Judge, of, Yankees

5. Tyler O’Neill, of, Mariners

Best Strike-Zone Discipline

1. Andrew Benintendi, of, Red Sox

Benintendi’s ability to hit for average and power is thanks in part to extremely strong wrists and hands that generate excellent bat speed, but it’s just as much about his understanding of a compact strike zone. It allows him to get into hitters’ counts and do damage once he does. If a pitcher keeps nibbling, he is also happy to take a walk.

2. Kevin Newman, ss, Pirates

3. Jesse Winker, of, Reds

4. Jake Bauers, 1b/of, Rays

5. J.P. Crawford, ss, Phillies

Fastest Baserunner

1. Terrance Gore, of, Royals

In 37 big league games, Gore has reached base twice as a hitter, both times when he was hit by a pitch. He is 0-for-12 at the plate and has yet to draw a walk, but he has scored 12 runs thanks to 19 steals in 21 attempts. It’s someone else’s job to get to first base, but once he is there, there’s no better pinch-runner than Gore, who has speed that rivals Billy Hamilton’s for the best in baseball.

Gore is an easy 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. As a hitter, he has no power, but he does run well enough that even as a righthanded hitter (which adds a tenth of a second to his time to first compared to a lefty) he can bunt into drawn in infields and turn an infield chopper into a single.

“He’s going to be a September callup for the next 10 years,” Royals of player personnel J.J. Picollo said in 2015, before the second of Gore’s September callups.

Gore is now three years into his sporadic, but likely long-lived pinch-running big league career.

2. Johnny Davis, of, Brewers

3. Roman Quinn, of, Phillies

4. Jorge Mateo, ss/2b/of, Yankees

5. Myles Straw, of, Astros

Best Fastball

Yes, we went 10 deep for best fastball because with the rising velocity in the game, we could have easily gone 25-30 deep and still listed pitchers with double-plus fastballs on the scouting card.

1. Michael Kopech, rhp, White Sox

For the Pitch FX era, Aroldis Chapman has been in a class by himself when it comes to extreme velocity. Where baseball has gotten used to seeing pitchers throw 100 mph, Chapman has stood alone as someone capable of finding 103, 104 and even 105 mph when needed.

Kopech, traded from the Red Sox to the White Sox in the offseason, regularly reaches 100 mph as a starting pitcher. If he moved to the bullpen like Chapman, it’s easy to see him getting to 102-plus on a regular basis, as he did in shorter stints in the Arizona Fall League.

Thyago Vieira throws every bit as hard as Kopech, and maybe even a little harder with even better life, but Kopech does it as a starter, which gives him an edge over the Mariners righthander.

2. Thyago Vieira, rhp, Mariners

Vieira was one of the revelations of the 2016 season. He long had promise, but under the tutelage of high Class A Bakersfield pitching coach Ethan Katz he started to lock in on a repeatable delivery and improved his control as the season wore on.

Ethan Katz has done a lot of great work with all our pitchers, but this kid for sure, from where he was the last couple years to where he’s at now—his fastball command, his slider—it’s been overwhelming watching him,” Bakersfield manager Eddie Menchaca said after last season. “This is a guy who someday can be a big league closer. It took a lot of work but Ethan Katz gets a lot of credit.

“There were a couple of mechanical issues there. A lot of it was mentality and being able to read swings and know where he wants to put the baseball and just getting a feel for his delivery and for what he’s good at, and that’s he has a good arm.
Once he figured out his slider, it’s been really, really unbelievable to watch a guy who throws 95-102 comes right after hitters.”

Vieira touched 103 in the Arizona Fall League and has been a frequent topic of conversation in Mariners spring training camp.

3. Riley Pint, rhp, Rockies

4. Ray Black, rhp, Giants

5. Dylan Cease, rhp, Cubs

6. Yadier Alvarez, rhp, Dodgers

7. Francis Martes, rhp, Astros

8. Domingo Acevedo, rhp, Yankees

9. Frankie Montas, rhp, Athletics

10. Reynaldo Lopez, rhp, White Sox

Best Curveball

1. Ariel Hernandez, rhp, Reds

Hernandez has been released before. He has spent time in the independent leagues and has been a minor league Rule 5 draft pick. But Hernandez’s power curveball has gotten top-of-the-scale grades from some scouts, as its combination of high 80s velocity and sharp downward tilt can be devastating when he locates it. Because of its velocity, it often gets described as a slider, but it has more of a true 11-to-5 downward break. Hernandez’s problem is actually his fastball command. He struggles to locate his fastball, but generally does a good job of locating his breaking ball.

2. Francis Martes, rhp, Astros

3. Max Fried, lhp, Braves

4. Touki Toussaint, rhp, Braves

5. Tyler Glasnow, rhp, Pirates

Best Slider

1. Zack Burdi, rhp, White Sox

It’s hard to find plus-plus sliders in the minors right now, but Burdi’s combination of extreme velocity (100 mph) and a hard, upper-80s slider with extreme tilt and bend makes him a potential future closer.

2. Tyler Jay, lhp, Twins

3. Frankie Montas, rhp, Athletics

4. Erick Fedde, rhp, Nationals

5. Dan Altavilla, rhp, Mariners

Best Changeup

1. Jharel Cotton, rhp, Athletics

Can a righthanded starting pitcher survive with a fastball, changeup, cutter and the idea of a breaking ball? Cotton might be able to because his changeup is just that good.

Cotton matches his delivery and arm speed when throwing his changeup to generate excellent deception, but it’s the velocity separation between his fastball and changeup that gives hitters problems. Cotton sits 91-93 mph and will touch 96 with his fastball, and his changeup is a high-70s pitch–a full 15 mph less than his fastball. At times it also has screwball-like action to it.

Hitters can’t sit on a 78 mph changeup when they are facing a pitcher that can throw 94 mph fastballs, and when they are geared up for his fastball, the changeup becomes hard to pick up, even when he doubles up on it.

“It’s a Bugs Bunny changeup, and he throws 96 mph,” a pro scout said.

2. Jose De Leon, rhp, Rays

3. Cal Quantrill, rhp, Padres

4. Anderson Espinoza, rhp, Padres

5. Chih-Wei Hu, rhp, Rays

Best Defensive Catcher

1. Carson Kelly, Cardinals

Kelly isn’t Yadier Molina–who is? But he is a well-rounded catcher who will impress at the big league level more for the steadiness of his glove than any flashy tool. A third baseman until the Cardinals drafted him, he is a reminder that some of the best catchers (like Russell Martin) come to the position late.

2. Garrett Stubbs, Astros

3. Elias Diaz, Pirates

4. Jorge Alfaro, Phillies

5. Jose Trevino, Rangers

Best Defensive Infielder

1. J.P. Crawford, ss, Phillies

Crawford is an archetype of the tall, rangy shortstop that has become common in the past decade. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but in the field, his combination of body control, athleticism, smooth actions and solid instincts makes him a smooth-fielding plus defender.

2. Amed Rosario, ss, Mets

3. Dansby Swanson, ss, Braves

4. Matt Chapman, 3b, Athletics

5. Ozzie Albies, 2b/ss, Braves

6. Cody Bellinger, 1b/of, Dodgers

7. Kyle Holder, ss, Yankees

8. Luis Guillorme, ss/2b, Mets

9. Michael De Leon, ss, Rangers

10. Engelb Vielma, ss, Twins

Best Defensive Outfielder

1. Manuel Margot, cf, Padres

Margot’s anticipation and route-running just keep getting better and better, but his speed, athleticism and fearlessness in center field have long made him a friend of pitchers. Margot has plus speed, which plays well in the outfield, and an above-average arm that helped him lead the Pacific Coast League in outfield assists last season.

2. Albert Almora, cf, Cubs

3. Christian Pache, cf, Braves

4. Braden Bishop, cf, Mariners

5. Derek Hill, cf, Tigers

Best Infield Arm

1. Matt Chapman, 3b, Athletics

It was easy to find scouts who liked Chapman more as a pitcher than hitter coming out of Cal State Fullerton, even though he never threw an official pitch for the Titans. Scouts saw Chapman touch 98 mph off the mound in two brief appearances as a pitcher with Team USA in the summer of 2013. Chapman stuck with hitting and it has paid off, as he hit 36 home runs last year between Double-A and Triple-A while showing an outstanding glove at third base. He even played some shortstop, as his top-of-the-scale arm allows him to make up for his limited range for the position by playing deeper.

2. J.D. Davis, 3b, Astros

3. Taylor Sparks, 3b, Reds

4. Lucas Erceg, 3b, Brewers

5. Drew Jackson, ss, Dodgers

Best Outfield Arm

1. Alex Verdugo, of, Dodgers

Scouts may debate how much offensive impact Verdugo will have, but no one questions his arm. Verdugo threw out 24 baserunners in 2015 and “slumped” to 13 assists in 2016 as third-base coaches around the Texas League realized it didn’t make sense to try to take an extra base against the best arm in the league.

“It’s an 80 arm, but it’s the accuracy that stands out,” one pro scout said.

Five of Verdugo’s 10 errors last year did come on throws, but he generally unleashes lasers from center and right field that end up right around their target. Verdugo was the first-team two-way player on Baseball America’s Preseason High School All-America team in 2014 as a lefty pitcher/outfielder. He would touch the low 90s off the mound in high school and likely could reach back for even more now, but after reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old, his decision to focus on hitting looks like the right one.

2. Hunter Renfroe, of, Padres

3. Bradley Zimmer, of, Indians

4. Aristides Aquino, of, Reds

5. Eddy Martinez, of, Cubs

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