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March 21, 2013

Top Tools

Best Hit/Power

by BP Prospect Staff

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Hit

Top Hitter in the Minor Leagues: Oscar Taveras (St. Louis Cardinals)

While there are several players that come up in the conversation for best hit tool, few draw such consistent praise as Taveras. The swing mechanics aren’t so much pretty as they are violent, but Taveras has an uncanny ability to control the violence in his swing and put the bat on the ball. The strength in his forearms and wrists helps create plus-plus bat speed through the zone and the overall swing plane allows him to keep the barrel of the bat in the hitting zone for an extended period of time. Taveras’ contact is often loud and consistently sprayed to all fields. The only question surrounding Taveras’ hitting ability is the frequency with which he swings and the aggressiveness of his overall approach; but even that has yet to keep scouts from projecting him as a perennial .300 hitter and potential batting champion.

Other Players Considered: Jurickson Profar (Texas Rangers), Anthony Rendon (Washington Nationals), Christian Yelich (Miami Marlins)

All three of these players were given strong consideration for the top spot in the minor leagues, but none could match the overwhelming praise piled on Taveras. Profar is nothing short of a fantastic overall player and most scouts project him as a consistent .300 hitter in the big leagues, much like Taveras. After an impressive college career that left amateur scouts drooling, Rendon has flown a little under the radar over the last year because of injury. There may be durability and longevity concerns surrounding Rendon, but nobody questions his ability to hit for a high average. He has an excellent approach at the plate, quick hands and good barrel control, leading to plenty of hard contact and high batting averages. Christian Yelich may be the most unheralded of the four prospects in this discussion, but he owns a gorgeous swing that generates hard line drives to all fields. Like Profar and Rendon, Yelich profiles as a potential .300 hitter, just not in the class of Oscar Taveras.

Top Major League Hitter: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)

All-Time Tool: Tony Gwynn

How to Identify It: Hitting a baseball isn’t always as easy as Larry Walker made it seem when he said “See ball. Hit ball.” Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports. A skill as difficult to execute can be just as difficult to identify. Start with the pre-pitch setup. The positioning of a hitter’s hands and his pre-pitch movement (often referred to as trigger or load) is extremely important. “Quiet” hands are desirable. Hitters that load with a consistent and relatively simple mechanism have a better chance of getting the bat to the zone smoothly and on time. Additional pre-pitch movement (sometimes referred to as a timing mechanism) such as a high leg kick, toe tap or long stride must also be monitored. Idiosyncrasies like leg kicks and toe taps can throw off a hitter's timing; causing them to be early or late to the point of attack and frequently swinging through the ball or making weak contact. Long strides can alter timing as well, but they are more frequently the cause of a hitter changing his eye level during the swing. Under ideal circumstances, good hitters demonstrate modest pre-pitch movement, allowing them to remain on balance throughout the initial phase of their swings. Once the pitch is on the way, good hitters will demonstrate an ability to manipulate their hands and the barrel of the bat as it approaches and goes through the hitting zone. A hitter with good hands can adjust to different types of pitches in different parts of the strike zone (and sometimes outside the strike zone). Those same hitters show an ability to keep their hands in or extend their arms as necessary to complete the adjustment and drive the ball to all fields. An additional part of the pre-pitch hitting sequence is early pitch identification and a strong knowledge of the hitting zone. All of these individual pieces leading up to impact can lead to the type of contact necessary to hit for a high average. The nuances threaded throughout all of these individual attributes are countless, and those nuances are difficult to separate. A hitter with excellent balance throughout the swing can be undone by modest hand-eye coordination or pitch recognition. Conversely, hitters with exceptional hand-eye coordination can at times hit without being balanced. Hitting, and identifying the ability to hit is far more art than science. There are no absolutes in hitting and in many cases it is about identifying the individual elements and coming to a conclusion about a hitter’s projection based on your gut and the results you see during game action.

Power

Top Power in the Minor Leagues: Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins)

The power Sano generates stands out in today’s baseball environment, because it is truly impressive and because it is a rare commodity in today’s game. Sano has the strong, physical build associated with elite power hitters. He shows plus bat speed despite the natural length present in his swing. The bat speed, brute strength and loft in the back half of his swing combine to produce tremendous raw power that is capable of generating towering home runs. While Sano’s raw power is impressive, he must continue improving his pitch recognition and plate discipline to allow full utility of the tool. To date, Sano has done an admirable job transitioning his raw power to game action, allowing easier projection of his 35-plus home run potential.

Other Players Considered: Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs), Xander Bogaerts (Boston Red Sox), Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers), Oscar Taveras (St. Louis Cardinals)

The only player truly in Sano’s class in terms of raw power is Texas’ Joey Gallo. In fact, Gallo might actually have more raw power than Sano. During internal discussions, the scales tipped in favor of Sano largely because of the projected game utility of the tool. Gallo’s swing-from-the-heels approach may ultimately force his raw power to play a grade lower as he faces more advanced pitching. Also a grade lower on the 20-80 scouting scale are high-end prospects Javier Baez, Xander Bogaerts and Oscar Taveras. All three players display exceptional bat speed and possess the potential to blast 25-30 home runs at their peak. Both Baez and Bogaerts need to continue refining their approaches to maximize their power potential, while Taveras’ advanced hitting ability should allow his power to play at a high level.

Top Major League Power Hitter: Giancarlo Stanton (Miami Marlins)

All-Time Tool: Mickey Mantle

How to Identify It: In a series like this it is necessary to discuss power potential in the context of hitting ability. Without the latter, all the strength, bat speed and raw power in the world won’t matter. The essence of a power hitter is bat speed; without it, a hitter will not impact the ball enough to generate legitimate power. Having strength and snapping the bat through the hitting zone is only part of the equation when considering bat speed. How the hitter collectively applies the elements of the hit tool discussed above can lead to a fluid, explosive swing that leads to “loud” contact. While bat speed is the basis of power, there are other mechanical components that are critical to realizing the raw potential many hitters display in batting practice. Within the swing, power hitters generate torque with an explosive hip turn that is timed with the impact on the ball. In addition, a hitter’s swing plane is of critical importance to the projection of power. There needs to be a slight upward trajectory (not quite an uppercut) to the swing, particularly on the back half to help lift the ball. Hitters that project for maximum home-run power have a tendency to impact the ball on the lower half, creating back spin and adding to the loft generated by the upward trajectory of the swing. The combination of bat speed, mechanical intricacies and the utility of the hit tool are all essential to generating power. Because of the many elements involved in hitting for power, it can be especially difficult projecting power in an extremely young, raw player. In such cases, scouts are forced to look for early signs of hit utility, the requisite mechanics and physical projection to make their case for future power. Scouting and projecting power is not as simple and straightforward as looking for the big guy that sends the ball flying over the fence. It is a nuanced process that is a derivative of hitting ability, making it exceptionally abstract and difficult to project.

Previous Top Tools
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Glove

Article discussed and debated by the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team. Constructed and delivered by Mark Anderson.

53 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

MSGT8500

Great article, and I agree with everything here. I do see one omission on the power side, though... Dan Vogelbach. He's the Cubs best power prospect, ahead of Baez, who does have a ton of power himself.

Mar 21, 2013 05:54 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Baez has more raw power than anybody in the Cubs org. It has 80 potential. I like Vogelbach, but his bat speed doesn't live on the same planet as Baez.

Mar 21, 2013 08:22 AM
 
ttt

I'm curious as to where Cecil Fielder would fall on the 20-80 scale. When he hit those balls onto the roof in old Tiger Stadium... just wow. Is that 7 power?

Mar 21, 2013 06:03 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Fielder is a 7 for me, and I could be talked into 7+. Limited peak and rapidly decreased bat speed as a result, but for the prime years he was legit.

Mar 21, 2013 12:08 PM
 
batts40

Good article.

Just FYI- your first sentence on Rendon is missing an Antecedent, it makes it look like you're talking about Profar's college career and injury history.

Really enjoy this series, thanks again.

Mar 21, 2013 06:14 AM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Yeah that was my fault, and now it's fixed.

Really enjoy this grammar correction, thanks again.

Mar 21, 2013 07:12 AM
 
batts40

The humor in grammar-nitting then randomly capitalizing antecedent isn't lost on me, fwiw.

Mar 21, 2013 06:15 AM
rating: 12
 
Jim ONeill

As a loyal member of the BP old-timers crew, it does seem that sometimes BP thinks baseball started at the turn of the century. This century.

Who among us doesn't appreciate the artistry of Tony Gwynn as he wielded one of the best hit tools in memory. But Tony is only second best in his adopted home town of San Diego, which was home to the "Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived"

If BP is enlightened enough to choose Mickey Mantle as po sessing the top power tool, an assessment with which I heartily concur, then please recognize his contemporary, the incomparable Theodore Samuel Williams, who was and is, The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived"

Mar 21, 2013 06:56 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

The hit tool is the hardest tool to scout. It's much easier to look at Mantle's tape measure shots or power consistency and arrive at the conclusion that he belongs in the all-time discussion. It's not that Williams was excluded because he doesn't belong in the debate (he does), or that he was excluded because the youth at Baseball Prospectus think baseball started in the 21st century (nice shot at us); although, familiarity helps form the skeleton of subjective analysis. I personally voted for Gwynn because I believe his swing would play in any era, on any field, against any pitcher in baseball, and I'm not sure that statement holds true for every great name in the debate.

Mar 21, 2013 08:20 AM
 
gpurcell

I'm a homer, but I was always much more impressed with Brett's hit tool than Gwynn's.

Mar 21, 2013 09:19 AM
rating: 1
 
SC

Ichiro also probably enters the conversation, though he's a freak, doing it uniquely so maybe his is more an "Ichiro" tool than a hit tool.

Mar 21, 2013 09:38 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Ichiro belongs in most tool discussions. I think his elite speed and running out of the box hitting style helped his cause more than any other player in the debate. When looking at the raw hit tool, I try to remove the speed from the equation. Yes, Ichiro was a wizard at contact, with elite hand-eye coordination and balance. But his legs turned a lot of weak infield dribblers into base hits, which inflated his average and his historical significance with the bat.

Mar 21, 2013 09:45 AM
 
BayCityM

Did Gwynns ability to hit to the opposite field have anything to do with his selection? Williams was a great hitter of course, but did his mostly pull swing influence his scouting grade at all?

Thanks.

Mar 21, 2013 09:47 AM
rating: 1
 
BarryR

Funny, Williams wasn't the first name that came to mind to me. Williams had the edge in power, and eye (and why isn't that a category?), but if Gwynn is exemplar of Hit Tool, then I wonder what it is that he did better than Musial and DiMaggio?

Mar 21, 2013 10:05 AM
rating: 0
 
formersd

Gwynn has been my stock answer for 2 outs, runner on 3rd, need a base hit to score the winning run for years. To me, that's what the hit tool is about. Gwynn didn't have the greatest power, but he could put the ball into the OF grass better than anyone else I've ever seen...

Mar 21, 2013 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I love the question. You need a base hit to win the game, who is the one player you absolutely want in that spot? Wade Boggs isn't a bad choice. He would get you the hit and then drink 64 beers on the way to the next city. Gwynn would probably get my vote as well. Miguel Cabrera wouldn't be the worst choice for such an AB. Rod Carew was born hitting singles.

Mar 21, 2013 11:17 AM
 
jdeich

Mike D deserves a mention. I listened to an audio documentary on the subject, and my understanding is that he and Mr. Carew had a similar number of hits.

Mar 22, 2013 07:39 AM
rating: 0
 
MikeyVoges

So is Joey Votto just entirely successful on approach or did we all forget the magic he channels through that stick?

Mar 21, 2013 07:14 AM
rating: -3
 
Behemoth

Yeah, everyone not listed in this article is bad at hitting.

Mar 21, 2013 09:08 AM
rating: 18
 
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Votto was mentioned, but fell short of Cabrera by, I believe, unanimous consent. Certainly a talented hitter, and one that should continue to compete for batting titles.

Mar 21, 2013 12:35 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm surprised Mantle got the nod. I was going to say Bonds was more deserving, but Pujols has a higher career SLG% than him. Pujols currently is 5th all time, Bonds is 6th, Mantle's 21st... and Babe Ruth's still #1

Sure, there are more ways to measure power than SLG%, but why Mantle?

Mar 21, 2013 08:41 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

A good way to measure raw power is distance, and Mantle was known to hit the ball a very long way.

Mar 21, 2013 08:46 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Then, wouldn't someone like Reggie Jackson and his light tower shots count?

Or, can we do an average HR distance for more modern players?

Mar 21, 2013 08:58 AM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I Jackson belongs in the discussion. We didn't list every player with a case.

Mar 21, 2013 09:07 AM
 
SC

Dave Kingman get a shout too? Or was his hit tool not actualized enough for his ridiculous power to fully shine. When I think pure power, I think King Kong.

Mar 21, 2013 09:10 AM
rating: 0
 
hyprvypr

I realize he's not considered quite in the same class, but was Russell Branyan's power a true 80 during his early years? Thanks, these are awesome.

Mar 23, 2013 08:16 AM
rating: 0
 
newsense

Could it be that Mantle is more of an "All-Time Tool" (personality-wise) than Bonds?

Mar 21, 2013 09:47 AM
rating: 1
 
Brian Kopec

I know he played in an era of depressed offense, before ESPN, in a small market with a bad park and worse uniforms...

But nobody ever hit them farther than Willie Stargell.

Mar 21, 2013 10:11 AM
rating: 1
 
cjrhgarmon

Even by that measure, more is needed to justify Mantle as the standard-bearer. In addition to the others mentioned in this thread, what about Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, or Hack Wilson? And if we are measuring power by distance, Josh Gibson has to be in the conversation, as it is likely that he hit balls farther than Mantle or anyone else.

Mar 21, 2013 10:58 AM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

No; more is not needed to justify Mantle's placement. We debated and decided he was the top power bat. You can disagree with it and make your own case, but it's not like we just picked Mantle's name out of hat.

Mar 21, 2013 11:02 AM
 
Brian Kopec

There is no right answer to this question, but there are many, many wrong ones. You guys picked an answer that is not wrong. I think we are done here.

Mar 21, 2013 11:14 AM
rating: 14
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Best way to put it, I think.

Mar 21, 2013 11:19 AM
 
danteswitness

Probably not the easiest thing in the world to pull plenty of tape on Josh Gibson as compared to someone like Mantle.

Mar 21, 2013 11:04 AM
rating: 1
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

+1 for Bonds. He, during his crazy peak, had the best power of anyone in the past 30 years.

Mar 24, 2013 00:20 AM
rating: 0
 
misterjohnny
(925)

Where does Yaisel Puig's power tool stack up against the other prospects?

Mar 21, 2013 09:14 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Puig is a grown man with grown man power. It's legit and it plays. He might have 8 raw, and I wouldn't be shocked if he finds a way to make the power play as a legit high 6 or 7. He could be a 30+ bomb type. It's still early for him, and the book hasn't been written yet so spring training results don't mean a lot. But the swing is very power friendly, with lots of lift and backspin ability. He's going to hit balls out of the park. We shall see how he adjusts to major league quality arms after they get a good look at him.

Mar 21, 2013 09:23 AM
 
ttt

I'm also curious as to the hit tool on Gary Sheffield. He had an amazing amount of power and an amazingly unique swing, but he never struck out that much (max 83), and walked more than he struck out by more than 300. He had to be at least a 7.

Mar 21, 2013 09:54 AM
rating: 1
 
fbraconi

I love this type of article so don't take my comments too critically. But are you really going out on a limb saying guys like Baez and Bogaerts have the "potential" to blast 25-30 homers "at their peak"? Last season 44 big leaguers blasted 25+ homers, 27 blasted 30+ homers, and 8 blasted 35+ homers. Isn't this article about identifying the future stars, not the future pretty-goods? I'm mean, there's a time for tempering expectations and letting regression to the mean rule--like when you're preparing for your fantasy draft. There's also a time for dreaming about upside. If Baez' peak potential is 25-30 HRs, heck, I'll just draft Trevor Plouffe and not have to wait five years.

Mar 21, 2013 10:01 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I don't think its responsible to project a player to heights that he might not have the skill-set to achieve. Saying that Baez/Bogaerts could hit 30+ at their peak is a possible outcome, and given their position on the field, a substantial level of production that would make them superstars, not pretty good players.

All of the low-level prospects that are projected to hit 25+ bombs at the major league level, how many actually end up hitting 25+ bombs at the major league level? Not many. It's still a lofty achievement.

Mar 21, 2013 10:10 AM
 
fbraconi

I completely understand that you do this for a living so have to be responsible with your projections, whereas I do this entirely for fun. So I might turn the question around and ask: Probability says that there are five or six guys currently playing in the minor leagues who will someday have 40-HR seasons in MLB. Who are they? I'd go with Olt, Sano, Singleton, Bogaerts and Buxton.

Mar 21, 2013 19:31 PM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

Viciedo

Mar 24, 2013 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

whoops. missed "minor leagues". sorry

Mar 24, 2013 11:01 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian Kopec

I get that Jurickson Profar is a great talent, worthy of the #1 prospect label. But is it really true that if he was, say, a flat footed 1B rather than a 'true SS', that his hit tool would still give him mention on this list? I'm not saying that he doesn't belong in the discussion because I frankly don't have enough information as I'm limited by the handful of at bats I've seen from his debut. But if you separate the hit tool from the rest of the prospect, and the hit tool is still worthy of 'best in class' discussion, then...just...wow.

Mar 21, 2013 10:05 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

His bat to ball ability is special. I've been watching him in person since he was 16, and it's so natural and easy. He just has a feel for putting that barrel on a baseball.

Mar 21, 2013 10:12 AM
 
BarryR

While it was nice that you guys went back to Mantle for power, and it surely doesn't seem like a bad choice, there seems to be a, shall we say, Ruthian question it brings up. Mantle over the Babe, really?

Mar 21, 2013 10:08 AM
rating: 2
 
nolansdad

This is not a complaint, it is an honest question born in curiosity: Did any BP staffers see Mantle hit live? Anyone here old enough for that (I'm not)?

Mar 21, 2013 10:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

He hit on my mom once, does that count?

Mar 21, 2013 11:03 AM
 
SC

How much of his power ranking is based on the results of that at bat?

Mar 21, 2013 11:11 AM
rating: 10
 
gweedoh565

Oh dear. This brings a whole new meaning to terms like "mechanical intricacies", "raw", "explosive hip turn", '“loud” contact', and totally out of context, "fluid, explosive."

Mar 21, 2013 11:29 AM
rating: 9
 
Richard Bergstrom

And "being able to translate it from batting practice to game power"

Mar 21, 2013 12:52 PM
rating: 3
 
hyprvypr

I show 70 raw power in softball BP but only 50 game power because pitchers f*c@#!*ing vary their delivery speeds...!

Mar 23, 2013 08:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

So that's how people get an 80 for makeup...

Mar 23, 2013 17:41 PM
rating: 1
 
nolansdad

That is a quality factoid right there!

Mar 22, 2013 10:35 AM
rating: 1
 
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