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May 21, 2010

Future Shock

Always Bet on Tools

by Kevin Goldstein

While the use of statistical analysis has grown in leaps and bounds, especially from the college side of things, tools still rule the day when it comes to the draft, so let's focus on the best tools from the top prospects available, beginning with position players.

Hit Tool: Zach Cox, 3B/2B, Arkansas
Nobody in the draft puts the screws on the ball as consistently as Cox, who enters this weekend batting .431 for the Razorbacks. Beyond that, he adds a fantastic approach, as evidenced by his 33 walks. He's elevated his stock with a slump-free season, and could even be the first four-year college position player to go off the board, but that's not to say he's a perfect player. Thickly built at 6-foot, 215 pounds, he profiles best as a third baseman, where he has a plus arm but merely average defensive skills otherwise. The real concern is his power ceiling. With just 11 doubles and eight home runs in 211 at-bats this year, Cox is rarely driving balls with aluminum, as his line-drive swing offers little in the ways of loft and back spin, while he's also far more likely to take a pitch the other way than pull anything. Teams that believe power is the last tools to develop may end up disappointed in Cox, who for many is more of a left-handed Bill Mueller than a future middle-of-the-order force.

High-School Version: Josh Sale (Bishop Blanchet HS, WA)
He is physically similar to Cox, but with more real and now power, but he doesn't run well, and projects as a left fielder at best as a pro, which will keep him in the second half of the first round. Shortstop Manny Machado (Brito HS, FL) is the best high school position player in the draft. He’s nearly as good of a hitter as Sale while playing a premium position.

Power Tool: Bryce Harper, C/OF/3B, College of Southern Nevada
Some would argue that Harper's power is among the best in the history of the draft. Just 17 years old and playing against good junior college competition, Harper has blasted 23 home runs in 193 at-bats, and that's with a team that uses wood bats. "To call it 80 power just doesn't do it justice," said one scout. "I've never seen anyone this young with anything close to this much in-game power." It comes at a small, easily acceptable price, as Harper has some holes in his swing and does strike out, but this tool alone would make Harper the top talent in the draft, yet he brings so much more to the table.

College Versions: Kyle Parker (Clemson)
Parker doubles as the starting quarterback for the football team, but his pro future is in baseball thanks to as much raw power as any college hitter available. He has a classic right-field package in terms of tools, but some worry about his ability to hit for average and how his remaining eligibility with effect his bonus demands. Michael Choice (UT Arlington) has raw power just a tick below Parker, but he has the same right-field profile with significantly better all-around tools. A second-round pick by the Red Sox out of high school three years ago, first baseman Hunter Morris (Auburn) will go somewhere around there again, maybe a bit higher, and is among the Division I leaders with 20 home runs.

Run Tool: Gary Brown, OF, Cal State Fullerton
It's hard to find a sure-fire first-round pick that confuses scouts more than Brown. The one thing everyone can agree on is that he's an 80 runner with blinding speed, as evidenced by his eight triples and 31 stolen bases in just 48 games. His .438/.485/.695 batting line is nothing short of eye-popping, but there is a lot of funk to his game, including a non-standard setup and swing. He is also a free swinger who almost never walks (just nine in 210 at-bats), and just as rarely strikes out (12). Despite the speed and contact rate, he's more than just a slasher, with some real juice in his bat that left some comparing him to a bigger, stronger version of Juan Pierre.

High-School Version: Delino DeShields, Jr. (Woodward Academy, GA)
He has his father's wheels, but like dad, he's undersized with an arm that limits him to the right side of the infield. He'll go in the first five rounds, but some teams fear that he wants to go to college.

Field Tool: Nobody?
This is not a great year for up-the-middle defensive players. The top high school shortstops, Machado and Yordy Cabrera (Lakeland HS, FL), might be shortstops in name only, and there is no college version of Ryan Jackson in this year's crop. One name getting some attention of late is Marcus Littlewood (Pinewood HS, UT), who fits the mold of the big, athletic shortstop while making up for a lack of crazy tools with one of the most polished all-around games among high school players. To nobody's surprise, his father played in the minors and is a long-time college coach. Littlewood is expected to go in the third round, with questions about his offensive upside preventing him from going higher.

Other Positions
Because of his speed, Brown covers an insane amount of ground in center field, and his arm is also above average. … While he's not much of a hitter and will go in the 8th-12th rounds, maybe a bit higher as a cheap senior sign, Texas Christian's Bryan Holaday is an outstanding defensive catcher with a little bit of power. He’s one of the few players who can say they took Stephen Strasburg deep.

Throw Tool: Austin Wilson, OF, Harvard Westlake HS (CA)
On a tools level, no high school player ranks with Wilson. He's 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he has plenty of strength and leverage in his swing, is an average to tick-above runner, and his arm is an absolute cannon, and the best in the draft. He's a raw product with length in his swing and the need for at-bats against better competition in order to improve his pitch recognition, but the athletic package alone will land him early in the second half of the first round.

Other Positions
Harper's arm strength is top of the line, but he has problems with both accuracy and the slowness in his release. He's thrown out just four of 35 base stealers this year, but scouts say that CSN's pitchers aren't doing Harper any favors in that department. … Shortstop Devin Lohman (Long Beach State) has little power and average speed, but he's a fundamentally sound shortstop with what some say is the best infield arm in the draft. He should go in the first five rounds, though some think he's more of a utility player in the big leagues.   

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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