Scouts are reluctant to slap an 80 on anything other than a triple-digit fastball or 3.9-second home-to-first time. After all, other than speed and arm strength—which are both quantifiable tools—assigning a scouting grade to a specific attribute is subjective.
Even though this post is a bit tardy relative to last week’s NFL draft combine, I thought that it may be interesting to look at which prospects would excel in skill-specific tests.
Bat Speed: Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
This was a difficult decision, as there’s a vast array of prospects boasting obscene bat speed. However, in terms of sheer forearm strength, wrist action and ability to get the bat head through the zone, Javier Baez gets the nod.
The Cubs’ 20-year-old shortstop swings hard—really, really hard—every time, which is also a concern in its own regard. However, the result can be jaw-dropping, as the ball absolutely jumps off the right-handed hitter’s bat. (Has anyone every recorded an exit velo for Baez?)
Power: Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
In my personal opinion, there’s only one big leaguer who boasts true 80-grade power: Giancarlo Stanton. Along those same lines, there’s only one prospect with 80-grade power: Miguel Sano. At 6’3”, 232 pounds, he’s loaded with strength and still developing physically, which makes his effortless power to all fields all the more impressive.
Infield Arm Strength: Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Considering that Correa lit up radar guns at a pre-draft Perfect Game showcase with 97 mph darts across the infield, he gets the nod here under the assumption that it improves as he physically matures. For the record, I also considered Junior Lake and Didi Gregorius.
Outfield Arm Strength: Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
As with infielders, there’s an actual way to gauge arm strength: radar guns. For most prospects, the foundation of their arm grades is typically derived from the velocity they showcased as an amateur. Now, while there’s certainly some big outfield arms scattered throughout the minor leagues—Byron Buxton, Bubba Starling and Jorge Soler come to mind—it’s hard to top Aaron Hicks. As a high school senior in Long Beach, California, Hicks also dazzled scouts on the bump with a fastball that reached as high as 97 mph.
Infield Defense: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
There’s a significant difference between an elite defensive infielder and outfielder. Not to detract from the value of a plus outfielder with range, but the hand-eye coordination and body control needed to be a great infielder are essentially innate attributes. Players who fall into this category are the ones who make challenging plays look routine—ones whose instincts always have them in the right place. Well, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to describe Francisco Lindor’s defense at shortstop.
Speed: Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
As I’ve stated many times before, Hamilton is the fastest player I’ve seen on the baseball field. Not only does he get out of the box as fast as any player in the game, but Hamilton also reaches full speed almost instantly—or perhaps that’s part of the impression he gives as his feet seemingly never stop moving. Whether it's going home-to-first in 3.5 seconds or completing an inside-the-park home run in 13 seconds, Hamilton's speed is almost other worldly.