February 28, 2014
Best Outfield Defense/Outfield Arm
Scouts spend countless hours watching and evaluating players, carefully considering the appropriate grade for each tool or each pitch a player offers. Throughout the course of the season and particularly throughout the course of ranking season, grades are tossed around with near reckless abandon. This player has plus power, and that player has a below-average fastball. This player offers above-average hit projection while that player buries hitters with a potential plus-plus curveball. It's easy to talk about the quality of an individual tool, but what does it all mean in the context of other players?
In the second edition of the annual Top Tools Series, the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Staff debated long and hard over how individual players’ tools stack up against those of their counterparts. Drawing upon our own eyewitness accounts and opinions from scouts across the league, the team debated and compiled the following ratings. The end result is a product that captures the oft-missing context of how individual player tools compare and who has the best of each tool in baseball.
Top Outfield Defense in the Minor Leagues: Kevin Kiermaier (Tampa Bay Rays)
Others Considered: Albert Almora (Chicago Cubs), Jackie Bradley (Boston Red Sox)
All-Time Tool: Devon White
How to Identify It: Simply put, good defenders look like naturals. The most important aspect of outfield defense is reaction time. The best defender will naturally react to the ball off the bat, making the correct movement and using the correct path toward the ball. He will often make it look easy, even though some other players might have needed to dive for the same ball. Footwork is important, and one wrong step backward or forward can often spell the end of any chance an outfielder has to make a play on the ball.
The path to the ball is probably the second-most-important aspect of defense. A straight line is always the fastest route, and good defenders will be able to map out the end point of the ball. Once a player starts looping or running off the straight-line path, he is losing time to set up for a potential throw. Good defenders are able to situate themselves in a manner that is necessary for post-play maneuvers. Defense at and around the wall is often overlooked in casual analysis of defensive play. A good defender is able to have that sixth sense of where the warning track and wall are, and he is able to time his jump, if necessary. The bottom line is that reaction and judgment skills are extremely important for any defender in the outfield, especially in center. —Tucker Blair
Top Outfield Arm in the Minor Leagues: Tyler Naquin (Cleveland Indians)
Others Considered: Jorge Bonifacio (Kansas City Royals), Che-Hsuan Lin (Houston Astros), Hunter Renfroe (San Diego Padres), Jorge Soler (Chicago Cubs), Bubba Starling (Kansas City Royals)
All-Time Tool: Jesse Barfield
How to Identify It: Arm strength is a simple tool to evaluate in comparison to others. More often than not, your eyes will not be deceived by what is displayed on a throw. Of course, there are a few things that should be looked for in a throw from the outfield. Just as with pitchers, the arm speed is usually a strong indicator of the amount of force that follows a throw. I also make a point to look at the angle of the arm, as some throws will tend to drift horizontally if the throw is not coming over the top. While movement is a plus for a pitcher, in the outfield it leads to a headache for those on the relay. Tailspin is bad and is often the reason for trouble on a throw.
Some throws also tend to break through the “second level” of wind. What I mean by this is that they seem to cut through the air and don't fade on their path to the cutoff man. The plus and plus-plus arms will routinely be able to hit the cutoff man on a line and even reach home plate on a line. Finally, I look at the crow hop and the footwork involved. While the feet aren't directly responsible for the throw, they do provide some of the force required, and a good crow hop will allow the player to gain extra momentum. A productive crow hop combined with the correct arm angle and arm speed allows a player to produce a terrific throw from the deepest part of the park. —Tucker Blair
Article discussed and debated by the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Staff. Constructed and delivered by Mark Anderson.