Ranking the Most MLB-Ready Tools from Top Prospects Heading to Camp
With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in a matter of days, I’ve spent the past week breaking down each team’s list of non-roster invitees—more specifically, the top prospects that have been invited to big league camp.
So today, I thought that I’d break down these players even further with a comparative look at their attributes.
Here’s a look at the most big league ready tools and pitches that will be on display this spring.
Best Fastball: Bruce Rondon, RHP, Detroit Tigers
At 6’3”, 255 pounds, Bruce Rondon is a presence on the mound who just looks like he throws gas. The right-hander’s plus-plus fastball sits between 98 and 102 mph with late life to the arm side, and it will make him a weapon out of the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen in 2013.
Runners-Up: Gerrit Cole (Pirates), Yordano Ventura (Royals), Dylan Bundy (Orioles), Trevor Rosenthal (Cardinals)
Best Curveball: Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
To complement his fastball that sits 93 to 96 mph and tops out at 98 mph, Zack Wheeler throws a sharp, 12-to-6 downer breaking ball that should serve as a legitimate out pitch in the major leagues.
Runners-Up: Tyler Skaggs (Diamondbacks), Taijuan Walker (Mariners), Jose Fernandez (Marlins)
Best Slider: Mark Montgomery, RHP, New York Yankees
Mark Montgomery has a chance to spend most of the 2013 season in the New York Yankees’ bullpen thanks to a plus-plus slider that is absolutely filthy. Thrown in the 83 to 86 mph range with excellent tilt, the pitch induces excessive swings and misses and is major league ready.
Runners-Up: Gerrit Cole, Alex Meyer (Nationals), Zack Wheeler
Best Changeup: Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
With one of the more advanced and polished arsenals in the minor leagues, it should come as no surprise that Bundy ranks as the top pitching prospect in the game. His changeup is his most consistent secondary pitch at the moment with the potential to be a plus offering at maturity.
Runners-Up: Julio Teheran (Braves), Danny Hultzen (Mariners), Kevin Gausman (Orioles), Gerrit Cole
Best Command: Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Jose Fernandez dominated in his full-season debut last season, as he registered a 1.75 ERA with 158/35 K/BB in 135 innings across two Class-A levels. Beyond his dynamic arsenal, the 20-year-old right-hander showcases command that’s incredibly advanced for his age and relative lack of experience.
Runners-Up: Shelby Miller (Cardinals), Dylan Bundy, Kyle Gibson (Twins)
Best Hitter: Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
The best hitter in the minor leagues, Oscar Taveras employs a powerful yet balanced swing that allows him to keep the bat head in the zone for an extended period of time without sacrificing power. In addition to hitting for average once again last season, he started to tap into his raw power last season against advanced competition.
Thanks to his unparalleled hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball ability, Taveras makes consistent loud contact to all fields and is comfortable hitting any pitch in any count.
Runners-Up: Jurickson Profar (Rangers), Anthony Rendon (Nationals), Christian Yelich (Marlins), Addison Russell (Athletics)
Best Bat Speed: Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
Javier Baez, 20, showcases easy, plus raw power thanks to his elite, plus-plus bat speed that yields loud contact to all fields. The 6’1” right-hander has extremely strong wrists and forearms that are vital toward his max-effort swing.
Runners-Up: Oscar Taveras, Wil Myers (Rays), Anthony Rendon, Jurickson Profar
Best Plate Discipline: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
Regarded as the most advanced bat in the 2011 draft class, Rendon has the potential for a plus hit tool if he can stay healthy. His loose, quick hands allow him to track pitches deep and still make loud contact. But what separates Rendon from the field is his phenomenal plate discipline and advanced pitch recognition.
The 22-year-is adept to working counts and rarely wastes at-bats.
Runners-Up: Jurickson Profar, Christian Yelich, Adam Eaton (Diamondbacks)
Best Power: Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Despite batting .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs last season in the minor leagues, the Royals traded Myers to the Rays earlier this offseason. At 6’3”, 205 pounds, Myers possesses a wiry, projectable frame, as his upper body is loaded with quick-twitch muscles that allow him to seemingly flick his wrists at the ball without sacrificing hard contact.
His setup is upright and slightly open, which allows him to employ a leveraged bat path and tap into his plus raw power.
Runners Up: Travis d’Arnaud (Mets), Oscar Taveras, Mike Olt (Rangers), Javier Baez, Mike Zunino (Mariners)
Best Speed: Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Let me start with this: Billy Hamilton is without a doubt the fastest player I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. Last season, he demolished the professional stolen base record with 155 in 132 games. Assuming that his on-base skills continue to improve, the switch-hitter profiles as a legitimate top-of-the-order player thanks to his game-changing and historic speed.
Runners-Up: Delino DeShields, Jr. (Astros), Adam Eaton, Gary Brown (Giants), Jake Marisnick (Marlins)
Best Defensive Catcher: Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
Arguably the top defensive catcher in the minor leagues, Austin Hedges’ combination of athleticism and natural ability behind the plate is special—seriously, he’s sick. It’s difficult to identify a flaw in Hedges’ defensive package, as he’s already an advanced receiver and agile blocker. Furthermore, he stifles opponents’ running game with a plus arm and excellent catch-and-throw skills.
Considering that his game-calling has been praised by both pitchers and managers, it’s not a huge surprise that the Padres invited him to big league camp. Even if Hedges never hits, there’s still a strong chance that he’ll reach the major leagues.
Runners-Up: Christian Bethancourt (Braves), Travis d’Arnaud
Best Defensive Middle Infielder: Didi Gregorius, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
At 6’1”, 185 pounds, Didi Gregorius, 22, is an instinctual and creative shortstop, with excellent range in all directions. His glove is equally impressive thanks to a combination of hand-eye coordination and soft, sure hands.
An above-average arm completes his well-rounded defensive skill set, as Gregorius projects to be a plus defender at the big league level.
Runners-Up: Jurickson Profar, Addison Russell, Hak-Ju Lee (Rays)
Best Defensive Corner Infielder: Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
As a result of his breakout 2012 season across both Class-A levels last season, the Angels invited the 20-year-old to big league camp this spring.
At 6’3”, 195 pounds, Kaleb Cowart is an excellent athlete who received heavy consideration as a pitcher due to his mid-90s heat off the mound as an amateur. Even though his arm stroke has some length, he compensates with velocity across the diamond. He has good reactions and instincts, while his actions and positioning continues to improve.
Runners-Up: Nolan Arenado (Rockies), Mike Olt
Best Infield Arm: Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
The top prospect in the game, Profar is an outstanding defensive middle infielder with fluid actions and plus range in all directions thanks to quick feet and tremendous instincts. Equally as impressive is his accurate, plus arm strength, which is strong enough for any position on the field.
Runners-Up: Javier Baez, Didi Gregorius, Addison Russell
Best Defensive Outfielder: Jake Marisnick, Miami Marlins
The 6’4”, 200-pound outfielder is one of the more athletic baseball players I’ve seen on a field in recent years. His above-average speed plays up a grade in center field and caters to his plus range at the position. His plus arm is more than enough for the position, and could also lead to time at both corner spots.
Runners Up: Trayce Thompson (White Sox), Gary Brown, Adam Eaton, George Springer (Astros)
Best Outfield Arm: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins
Although Aaron Hicks has been slow to develop, the switch-hitting center fielder broke out in a big way last season with a strong performance at Double-A. His athleticism and plus speed are ideal for the position, while his plus arm—Hicks was popping low-90s off the mound in high school—serves as an underrated weapon.
Although he has only one season at Double-A under his belt, the 23-year-old has the potential to break camp as the Twins’ Opening Day center fielder.
Runners-Up: Jorge Soler (Cubs), Adam Eaton, Jake Marisnick, George Springer