Thursday, July 11, 2013
Best tools in the Futures Game
By Keith Law
Boston's Xander Bogaerts is one of the best power-hitting prospects in this year's Futures Game.
Sunday's MLB Futures Game, airing on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. ET, features a large proportion of the best prospects in the minors, including a number of players whose tools or pitches grade out at 70 or even 80 on the 20-80 scale. Here's a look, tool by tool and pitch by pitch, at the best this year's rosters have to offer.
(Note: You will see me refer to scouting grades throughout this piece. For those unfamiliar, scouts grade tools on a 20-80 scale. It's rare to see a grade of 80, and 50 is considered league-average.)
Best hit tool
Cleveland's Francisco Lindor has an advanced approach for someone so young; he won't turn 20 until just before Thanksgiving and is already playing extremely well in high Class A, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts and the third-highest average in the league. He doesn't have the huge ceiling of many of the other prospects in this game, mostly because he's not likely to hit for power, but a true shortstop who can post a high OBP and has some foot speed will be a valuable big leaguer for a long time.
Miami's Christian Yelich, who also appeared in the game last year, has one of the best pure swings in the minors, but his season has been interrupted twice by injury and he's showing a somewhat concerning weakness against left-handed pitching.
Minnesota's Miguel Sano is one of the minors' best hitting prospects, with huge in-game power, but if we're just talking raw power, he has competition from Rangers prospect Joey Gallo, who is tied for the Sally League (low Class A) lead in home runs but is one behind the league leader (teammate Lewis Brinson) in strikeouts.
Boston's Xander Bogaerts doesn't have that enormous, grade-80 power yet, but the ball comes off his bat well and he has 30-homer potential down the road, with Houston's George Springer not far below that.
Best running speed
Billy Hamilton of the Reds wins this yet again, but it's not quite a landslide with Minnesota's Byron Buxton, also an 80 runner but just a shade slower than Hamilton, in the same outfield this year. Houston second baseman Delino DeShields Jr. rounds out the top three.
San Diego's Austin Hedges was one of the best defensive catchers scouts had ever seen at the high school level, receiving and throwing like a big leaguer even at age 17. Lindor and Oakland's Addison Russell both have outstanding hands at shortstop, with Lindor the more consistent fielder while Russell has a little more range. Late addition Chris Owings from Arizona is a strong defender at short with an accurate arm and probably would be in the majors by now if his lack of patience at the plate wasn't holding him back.
Best throwing arm
Gallo was consistently in the low 90s as a pitcher in high school, and some teams concerned about his trouble making contact wanted him to consider signing as a pitcher rather than as a position player. You don't see many 80 arms on position players for that very reason -- the industry tends to put those guys on the mound -- but Gallo is one of the few. We also have two catchers in this game with strong throwing arms, Hedges and Atlanta's Christian Bethancourt, the latter of whom might be a candidate for a conversion to the mound if he can't find some plate discipline.
Kansas City's Yordano Ventura is the most likely to hit 99 or 100 mph among players on the two rosters, doing it easily despite his 5-foot-11 (at most) frame. Other threats to touch triple digits include the Mets' Noah Syndergaard and Arizona's Archie Bradley, while Colorado's Eddie Butler gets the nod for best fastball movement, with great sinking action on his mid-90s heater.
Best breaking ball
Bradley has always had an absolute hammer of a breaking ball, although it's been a little less consistent this year than in years past. However, with his improvement in command and control, I can live with a temporary dip in curveball quality. From the left side, Philly's Jesse Biddle has the best breaking ball, a little slow but with good shape to it, a pitch that is improving as his velocity improves as well. White Sox farmhand Andre Rienzo, the lone Brazilian player in the game this year, has an effective cutter that he uses as a replacement for his changeup.
It's a sad crop of changeups this year, with no pitcher on either roster boasting a changeup that is consistently plus or better. Nearly every pitcher in the game has a changeup, but no one has an out-pitch version. Kansas City's Miguel Almonte has the best one of the bunch, and it's playing up now that his velocity, solid-average last summer, has improved. Baltimore's Eduardo Rodriguez has an above-average change that will flash plus, very hard at 87-88 with good fading action, although his feel for it isn't that advanced yet.