How To Get The Most Out Of Minor League Best Tools

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Minor league managers know it when they see it.

In the 40 seasons since Baseball America introduced Best Tools surveys in 1983, minor league managers have proven most prescient at forecasting future MLB stars in two particular categories in full-season leagues.

Players who were voted Best Batting Prospect or Best Pitching Prospect by minor league managers have gone on to accumulate more wins above replacement in MLB than any other Best Tools category winners. 

Technically, the winner of the Most Exciting Player category falls in between, but that category features a lot of overlap with Best Batting Prospect and typically is awarded to an athletic hitter who plays up the middle and steals bases.

The table below displays the career major league WAR totals accumulated by players who won the corresponding Best Tools categories as minor leaguers. 

Minor League Best Tools Category WAR in MLB
Share of total WAR
Best Batting Prospect 5,892 12.7%
Most Exciting Player 4,881 10.5%
Best Pitching Prospect 4,327 9.4%
Best Fastball 3,559 7.7%
Best Power Prospect 3,065 6.6%
Best Infield Arm 2,848 6.2%
Best Defensive Outfielder 2,839 6.1%
Best Defensive Shortstop 2,415 5.2%
Best Defensive Third Baseman 2,239 4.8%
Best Breaking Pitch 2,081 4.5%
Best Outfield Arm 1,960 4.2%
Best Defensive Catcher 1,885 4.1%
Best Baserunner 1,835 4.0%
Best Control 1,578 3.4%
Fastest Baserunner 1,559 3.4%
Best Defensive Second Baseman 1,347 2.9%
Best Defensive First Baseman 1,345 2.9%
Best Reliever 617 1.3%


From every level from Triple-A down to Low-A, Best Batting Prospect category winners go on to have the most productive big league careers in terms of WAR. 

Most Exciting Player and Best Pitching Prospect category winners finish in the top three at every level but Low-A, where Best Pitching Prospect winners drop to fifth in terms of subsequent big league WAR.

This is a helpful reminder that proximity to MLB helps when evaluating pitching prospects. This is because command of multiple pitches becomes more important at higher levels and because many pitchers can dominate inexperienced Low-A hitters with one carrying pitch. 

What The Past Tells Us About The Best Bets For The Future

Minor league managers have completed Best Tools surveys in each of the past 40 seasons—with the exception of 2020, when there was no season—and in that time more than 8,000 individual category winners have been recognized.

This year alone, BA recognized players in 21 different Best Tools categories across all 11 full-season minor leagues for a total of 231 honorees. 

The data shows that not all Best Tools categories are created equal when it comes to forecasting future MLB success. Pay special attention to prospects who won the Best Batting Prospect, Most Exciting Player and Best Pitching Prospect categories. Those players tend to produce the most MLB value.

On the flip side of the coin, the following categories historically have not correlated with future MLB success: Best Reliever, Best Defensive First Baseman, Best Defensive Second Baseman, Fastest Baserunner and Best Control.

Standing out in the above categories has not historically placed players on a fast track to MLB stardom. But in baseball, there are always exceptions, including Tom Henke, Kenley Jansen, Francisco Cordero and other Best Relievers; Kenny Lofton, Jose Reyes, Devon White and other Fastest Baserunners; and Mark Buehrle, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Hendricks and other Best Control winners.  


Naming Names

Top 10 MLB hitters by WAR to have won the Best Batting Prospect category in a minor league:

  1. Alex Rodriguez, 1994 Midwest
  2. Albert Pujols, 2000 Midwest
  3. Adrian Beltre, 1996 South Atlantic, 1997 Florida State & 1998 Texas
  4. Jeff Bagwell, 1990 Eastern
  5. Mike Trout, 2010 Midwest & 2011 Texas
  6. Ken Griffey Jr., 1988 California
  7. Derek Jeter, 1994 Florida State & 1995 International
  8. Frank Thomas, 1990 Southern
  9. Miguel Cabrera, 2003 Carolina
  10. Jim Thome, 1991 Eastern & 1993 International

Best Batting Prospect winners since 2010 include Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich


Top 10 MLB pitchers by WAR to have won the Best Pitching Prospect category in a minor league:

  1. Greg Maddux, 1985 Midwest
  2. Randy Johnson, 1986 Florida State & 1987 Southern
  3. Pedro Martinez, 1991 California & 1991 Texas
  4. Mike Mussina, 1991 International
  5. John Smoltz, 1988 International
  6. Justin Verlander, 2005 Florida State
  7. Clayton Kershaw, 2007 Midwest & 2008 Southern
  8. Zack Greinke, 2003 Carolina
  9. CC Sabathia, 2000 Eastern
  10. Felix Hernandez, 2004 California & 2005 Pacific Coast

Best Pitching Prospect winners since 2010 include Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Marcus Stroman, Zack Wheeler and Walker Buehler

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