Best Tools In The Minors
Trust in the tools. It’s an adage that has been drilled into scouts’ heads for time immemorial. In this exercise we do exactly that by highlighting the prospects with the loudest tools in the minor leagues. The best of the best, if you will. For the pitching categories, only starters were considered, while CB stands for curveball and SL for slider.
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays
- Francisco Mejia, C, Indians
- Luis Urias, 2B/SS, Padres
- Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds
- Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays
When evaluators talk about Vladimir Guerrero Jr., names like Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Ramirez come up as comparisons. All three won batting titles and were the best all-around hitters in the game at their peaks, and Guerrero is right in line with his jaw-dropping mix of strike-zone discipline, pitch recognition, bat speed, feel for the barrel and power potential. While he’s not the same level of athlete as his Hall of Fame father, he might end up being an even better hitter, a frightening concept considering Vlad Sr. hit .318/.379/.553 in his 16-year career and never once batted below .290.
- Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox
- Tyler O’Neill, OF, Cardinals
- Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves
- Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers
- Austin Hays, OF, Orioles
With power spiking all across baseball, those who didn’t hit for much power in the minors are frequently becoming 20-home run threats in the majors (see: Taylor, Chris and Gregorius, Didi). Even with that, a few precocious prospects stand out for their immense power potential. Eloy Jimenez tops this list for the second straight year after he hit a light tower during the Carolina League home run derby and hit 19 homers in just 89 games. Walking human muscle Tyler O’Neill blasted 31 homers at Triple-A last year. Ronald Acuna and Willie Calhoun are such advanced hitters that their power output surpasses many others considered to have greater raw power, while Austin Hays edged out a deep group for the final spot. His competition included Red Sox 3B Michael Chavis, Indians 1B Bobby Bradley, Braves 3B Austin Riley and Blue Jays 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Tigers OF Christin Stewart and Dodgers OF D.J. Peters are two others with big power to keep an eye on.
- Jorge Mateo, SS/OF, Athletics
- Roman Quinn, OF, Phillies
- Franchy Cordero, OF, Padres
- Victor Robles, OF, Nationals
- Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
Speed kills, both on the basepaths and in the field, and quite a few prospects can turn on the burners with the best of them. Jorge Mateo and Roman Quinn are two prospects who earn top-of-the-scale 80 grades from evaluators with their speed, while Franchy Cordero and Victor Robles have wowed with their speed in center field and the ground they can cover. Cristian Pache edged Mariners OF Ian Miller and Reds OF Jose Siri for the final spot, and there are plenty of players in the low minors who can fly, such as Angels OF Trent Deveaux, and still have a few years to grow into their bodies.
Best Defensive Catcher
- Jose Trevino, C, Rangers
- Carson Kelly, C, Cardinals
- Will Smith, C, Dodgers
- Sean Murphy, C, Athletics
- Jake Rogers, C, Tigers
Jose Trevino was drafted as an infielder and has turned himself into arguably the best defensive catcher in the minors, earning pristine marks on his receiving, blocking, game-calling and leadership while throwing out 40 percent of basestealers in his career. Carson Kelly is perhaps the most polished of the defensive catching prospect, while Will Smith’s receiving and athleticism and Sean Murphy’s arm are as good as it gets among prospects today. Jake Rogers takes the final spot over a deep group of promising defensive catcher prospects, including the Phillies’ Jorge Alfaro, the Astros’ Garrett Stubbs, the Royals’ Cam Gallagher and the Orioles’ Austin Wynns.
Best Defensive Infielder
- Antonio Pinero, SS, Brewers
- Luis Guillorme, SS/2B, Mets
- Sergio Alcantara, SS, Tigers
- Chris Torres, SS, Marlins
- Alfredo Rodriguez, SS, Reds
Slick-fielding infielders continue to move up the minor league ladder. Five shortstops take the top spots, led by 19-year-old Antonio Pinero, whom one evaluator joked was a "triple-plus” defender at shortstop. The best of the next are all supremely talented middle infielders who project as possible Gold Glovers if they hit enough be to everyday players in the majors, while others like the Rays’ Willy Adames, the Athletics’ Nick Allen and the Padres’ Gabriel Arias earn similar raves. While shortstop is the most demanding infield position and thus dominates the best infielder category, plenty of elite defenders at other positions are present as well. The Brewers’ Lucas Erceg brings elite glove work and a rocket arm at third base, the Rockies’ Garrett Hampson possesses a lightning-quick first step with elite hands and range at second base, and the Mariners’ Evan White is a potential Gold Glove winner at first base.
Best Defensive Outfielder
- Victor Robles, OF, Nationals
- Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
- Brett Phillips, OF, Brewers
- Magneuris Sierra, OF, Marlins
- Braden Bishop, OF, Mariners
The greats make everything look easy, and Victor Robles makes the difficult task of playing center field look remarkably sol. With elite speed, a big arm and amazing natural reflexes and reads, Robles takes care of everything in center field in all directions to give the Nationals a future Gold Glove candidate. Cristian Pache draws similar raves at the lower levels, while Brett Phillips already has shown flashes of elite defense at all three outfield spots in the majors. Magneuris Sierra and Braden Bishop are elite defensive center fielders who edged out a strong crop of remaining candidates, including the Braves’ Ronald Acuna, the Reds’ Jose Siri and the Indians’ Greg Allen.
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- Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox
- Jorge Guzman, RHP, Marlins
- Shohei Ohtani, RHP, Angels
- Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals
- Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
With more than 80 prospects touching 100 mph in 2017, there are plenty of ways to go with best fastball. Jorge Guzman, the top prospect the Marlins acquired for Giancarlo Stanton, touched 100 mph more often than any other pitcher—majors or minors—last year and has a strong claim to the best fastball. But Michael Kopech’s life on his 97-101 mph heater makes it extra special, and has allowed him to climb to the brink of the majors. Shohei Ohtani and Alex Reyes are both potential aces who hold mid-90s velocity deep into games and can get to 100 mph. Other starters may have more peak velocity than Walker Buehler, but few can hold their velocity like the Dodgers righthander. Buehler, despite his thin frame, rarely throws a fastball under 96 mph, and sits 96-99 until the end of his starts. The Reds’ Hunter Greene and the Phillies’ Sixto Sanchez lead the best of the next, while others like the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara, the Rockies’ Riley Pint and the Dodgers’ Yadier Alvarez all have top-level velocity but need to make strides with their command for their heaters to be truly elite pitches.
Best Breaking Ball
- Luiz Gohara, LHP, Braves (SL)
- J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, Astros (SL)
- A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics (SL)
- Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates (CB)
- Dylan Cease, RHP, White Sox (CB)
Luiz Gohara’s slider drew raves from evaluators the last two years, and it certainly played like an elite pitch when he got to the majors. Opponents hit just .125 against Gohara’s slider in his major league debut, with a 41 percent whiff rate. It’s the head of an elite group of sliders among prospects. J.B. Bukauskas’ slider made him an All-American and first-round pick out of college, while A.J. Puk’s rise to potential ace status has been helped in part by his devastating, side-to-side slider that makes both righties and lefties look foolish. The top curveball belongs to Mitch Keller, who can land his hammer for a strike at any time in any part of the zone. Opponents can’t do anything with Keller’s curve when they do make contact with it. Dylan Cease’s 12-to-6 curve is the next best, and the Indians’ Triston McKenzie has a similarly dominant curveball that was named best in the Carolina League. The Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty’s slider keeps getting better and shined bright in his September callup last year, giving him a potential swing-and-miss pitch that is outperforming evaluators’ original grades.
- Cal Quantrill, RHP, Padres
- Jose Albertos, RHP, Cubs
- Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Rays
- Yohander Mendez, LHP, Rangers
- Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
Batters tend to walk back to the dugout shaking their heads when they face Cal Quantrill’s changeup, a pitch he sells with identical arm speed as his mid-90s fastball and pulls back just in front of the plate, almost as if it was on a string. Lunging swings over the top are a Quantrill changeup specialty, and when contact is made on it, it often comes off balance and two feet in front of the plate, resulting in harmless soft grounders. Yohander Mendez is the lone lefty to crack the best changeup list, though there are plenty who have an argument, including Padres southpaws Adrian Morejon, Logan Allen and Joey Lucchesi, the Phillies’ JoJo Romero and the Tigers’ Austin Sodders.
- Shane Bieber, RHP, Indians
- Alex Wells, LHP, Orioles
- Aaron Civale, RHP, Indians
- Tom Eshelman, RHP, Phillies
- Pablo Lopez, RHP, Marlins
Shane Bieber’s control is so good it’s almost comical. Since being drafted in the fourth round by the Indians in 2016, Bieber has 183 strikeouts and 12 walks in 197.1 innings. The UC Santa Barbara product simply doesn’t miss the strike zone and, even more dangerous for opponents, has started reaching mid-90s velocity while keeping his elite control. The Indians clearly valued strike-throwers in that 2016 draft, because their third-round pick that year was Northeastern righthander Aaron Civale, who has 22 walks in 202.1 career innings. The Orioles’ Alex Wells possesses unmatched control among lefthanders, posting 113 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 140 innings in his full-season debut last year. Other elite strike-throwers who just missed include Rays righty Yonny Chirinos, Marlins righty Nick Neidert and Reds righty Vladimir Gutierrez.