Making The Grade: Comparing Tools Grades Of Top 100 Prospects Past And Present
One of the joys of evaluating prospects for Baseball America is dreaming about how young players could develop. Since you’re reading BA, the same is probably true for you.
And there’s no better group of players to begin dreaming on than the toolsiest ones in this year’s Top 100 Prospects ranking.
One way to estimate how prospects might pan out is to compare their scouting grades with those of prospects past. BA is equipped to do that because, thanks to the Prospect Handbook, we have 10 years of data—tools grades—for the top prospects in baseball
So let’s dive into the archives and see how the toolsiest prospects of 2020 compare with those of yesteryear.
But before we get started, a disclaimer: these are not comps made by scouts or even computer models. These are simply comparisons of tools grades on the 20-80 scale as evaluated when players were prospects.
Luis Robert, OF, White Sox
Robert finished runner-up to Gavin Lux for the 2019 Minor League Player of the Year award, acknowledging a season in which he climbed from high Class A to Triple-A while showing incredible power and speed. He hit .328 with 32 home runs and 36 stolen bases and enters 2020 as the No. 2 prospect in baseball. Robert shares similarities with Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. when he was a prospect.
|Ronald Acuña Jr.||20||2018||60||70||70||70||60|
Acuña won Minor League POY honors in 2017, when he also climbed from high Class A to Triple-A and hit .325 with 21 homers and 44 steals. He entered 2018 as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and went on to win National League Rookie of the Year that season.
The key differences between the two players are that (1) Robert, because of his Cuban heritage, was three years older than Acuña when he signed, and (2) Robert is not viewed as the same caliber hitter as Acuña was as a prospect.
Wander Franco, SS, Rays
Franco enters 2020 ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball based on his otherworldly hitting acumen and power potential as a teenage middle infielder who is ready for Double-A. Last season he hit .327 with nine homers, 27 doubles and more walks (56) than strikeouts (35).
Given Franco’s unique characteristics, including his youth, it’s difficult to find an exact match in the prospect annals. However, the Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette is a direct contemporary who has a similar offensive profile with good but not outstanding defensive potential.
Though Jurickson Profar’s career has not met expectations—in part because he lost the better part of two years in his early 20s to injury—he was a phenom who like Franco ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in the game in 2013. The year before, Profar had hit .281 with 14 homers, 26 doubles and nearly as many walks (66) as strikeouts (79) at Double-A.
Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
Rodriguez appears to be the latest in a line of young Dominican hitting prodigies, e.g. Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr., who are rewriting the rules of player development. Rodriguez is coming off an age-18 season in which he hit .326 with 12 home runs and 26 doubles in 84 games while reaching high Class A in his full-season debut.
Rodriguez’s tools and trajectory most closely resemble another wunderkind with a right field profile: Bryce Harper. Harper spent all but the first month of his age-19 season in Washington. Rodriguez has a chance to factor for the Mariners in 2020, albeit with a second-half ETA a best-case scenario.
CJ Abrams, SS, Padres
The sixth overall pick in June, Abrams shredded the Rookie-level Arizona League in his debut, winning the batting title (.401), swiping 15 bases and finishing second in on-base percentage (.442) and slugging (.662). While the AZL is a hitter’s league, batting .400 at any level is an achievement, especially for a teenager making his pro debut.
Abrams shares similarities with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who in 2015 hit .312 with five homers and 49 stolen bases at Double-A. Anderson has always been held back by low walk rates and high chase rates, which were not evident for Abrams in his pro debut, thus the more optimistic view of his hit tool.
Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays
Pearson drew buzz in his draft year for hitting 100 mph in a bullpen session while at JC of Central Florida. The 6-foot-6 righthander has improved the touch on his slider as he has climbed the ladder and now sits at the precipice of the big leagues despite missing essentially all of 2018 to a fractured forearm.
Heading into the 2013 draft, Jon Gray ranked as the No. 1 prospect on the BA board. He fell to the Rockies at No. 3 but zoomed to the majors by the end of 2015. Coming out of college, Gray was a big-bodied righthander who had hit 100 mph in his draft year while throwing an outstanding slider. Thus the similarities with Pearson are easy to see.
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners
Kelenic’s wide-ranging tool set has prospect hounds and Mariners fans excited. He began his full-season debut last year at low Class A and finished it at Double-A, hitting .291 overall with 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
The Cardinals’ Oscar Taveras entered 2014 ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball and made his big league debut that May 31. He scuffled more than expected but made the postseason roster and went 3-for-7 with a homer. Less than two weeks later he died in a traffic collision in his native Dominican Republic.
In other words, we will never know what type of player Taveras might have become, though it’s fair to map his abilities to those of Kelenic, right down to being a lefthanded-hitting center fielder who might fit best on a corner in the big leagues.
2021 MLB Top Prospects For Every Team
Baseball America's annual midseason Top 30 prospects rankings update is here.
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics
Luzardo has ranked as the No. 1 lefthanded pitching prospect in 2019 and 2020. He remains prospect eligible this season only because a lat injury limited him to 43 minor league innings and six September big league relief appearances in 2019.
Given Luzardo’s pitch mix and poise, scouts have no problem projecting him to the role of No. 2 starter in the big leagues. The same was true of Dodgers lefthander Julio Urias when he was a prospect, and both southpaws are similar in stature. Urias was waylaid by shoulder surgery in 2017 and 2018 and then a domestic violence suspension in 2019, so he hasn’t come close to meeting expectations.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics
Puk might have been the most talented prospect in the 2016 draft, but he slipped to the Athletics at No. 6 overall because of shaky control. Oakland helped streamline his delivery to throw more strikes without sacrificing stuff, and he led all minor league starters with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 2017. Puk lost 2018 to Tommy John surgery and this season will attempt to establish himself in the Oakland rotation.
Fellow college lefthander Carlos Rodon had designs on being drafted No. 1 overall heading into his junior year before falling short of expectations. Both he and Puk are slider-oriented starters with big fastballs, shaky changeups and scattershot command. Both also have Tommy John surgery on their résumés after Rodon had the procedure in 2019.
Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
Pache has long drawn praise for his Gold Glove potential in center field. He also throws and runs at near top-of-the-scale levels. Pache spent the bulk of 2019 at Double-A and reached Triple-A thanks to the rapid offensive growth he has shown in the past two seasons. He hit .277 with 12 homers and eight steals overall.
Finding a prospect who matches Pache’s unique skill set is a challenge. The closest match is probably the Pirates’ Gregory Polanco, who in 2013 hit .285 with 12 homers and 38 steals in a season spent primarily at Double-A. But that is an imperfect fit because of Polanco’s higher perceived offensive ceiling, height (6-foot-5), batting hand (left) and imminent shift to right field in 2014.
In reality, Pache could resemble Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, though Buxton’s tools, including 80 speed and 80 defense, were regarded as a grade or two higher across the board when he was a prospect.