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March 5, 2014

Top Tools

Best Slider/Changeup/Command

by Mark Anderson and BP Prospect Staff

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.

Previous entries: Best Hit/Power | Best Speed/Makeup | Best Infield Defense/Infield Arm | Best Outfield Defense/Outfield Arm | Best Catcher Defense/Catcher Arm | Best Fastball/Curveball


Top Slider in the Minor Leagues: Jonathan Gray (Colorado Rockies)
Despite having just 37 1/3 innings of professional experience, Gray made an impression on talent evaluators with a plus-plus slider that elicits ugly swings. Gray’s slider features extremely tight spin, approaching the plate with the appearance of a fastball before sharply darting away from right-handed hitters. At its best, the pitch has two-plane movement that misses bats consistently and can be relied upon in any situation. Gray shows a willingness to throw the pitch at any point in his sequence, making it all the more devastating.

Others Considered: Kohl Stewart (Minnesota Twins), Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays)
Plenty of sliders drew mention in this discussion, but Stewart and Stroman stood above the rest. Stroman’s slider shows as a plus-plus offering thrown in the mid-80s with lethal bite. Stewart has some projection remaining in his slider, but he routinely fires better-than-plus present sliders, featuring his own mid-80s velocity and slightly less sharp break than Stroman. Stewart could still refine the pitch further and has a chance to top this list in the future.

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Related Content:  Scouting,  Command,  Slider,  Changeup,  Tools

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

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I've seen Marco Gonzales throw his change up a few times and admittedly it's a good pitch, definitely major league worthy. But the best change up by far that I've seen from anyone in the minors belongs to Mike Morin. Reminds me very much of Fernando Rodney's change.

Mar 05, 2014 08:32 AM
rating: 1

I still think that 'command' would be better defined as the ability to throw each pitch with consistent action and control being defined as the ability to have the ball end up where you want it to end up, which doesn't necessarily mean throwing a strike.

Mar 05, 2014 09:03 AM
rating: 1

I'm personally too young to have appreciated Steve Carlton's slider, but now this post will have me hunting for videos.

How close was Randy Johnson to being considered the best all-time slider? Curious because I don't think anyone stands up to that over the course of my lifetime.

Mar 05, 2014 09:31 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Johnson was definitely in the conversation. He was one of two or three guys that the final decision came down to.

Mar 05, 2014 10:12 AM

I'll never forget that filthy change-up Eddie Butler threw at the futures game. It moved like a screwball and made Xander Bogaerts look silly. If he can consistently get movement like that out of his change, I'd think he'd have to force his way into this conversation.

Mar 05, 2014 09:42 AM
rating: 0

This has been a really fun series. I feel like I learned a lot!

Mar 05, 2014 09:57 AM
rating: 5
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Thanks! It was a lot of fun to debate and construct, as well.

Mar 05, 2014 10:13 AM

Did Cliff Lee get considering for top current major league command?

Mar 05, 2014 10:25 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Yes. Lee's name was tossed around during the discussions.

Mar 05, 2014 10:27 AM

I am surprised that Chris Sale didn't get the nod for the best slider in the bigs. When you can generate swings on balls that hit the batter, there's some big-time confusion going on. Yeah, Darvish is good, but give me the Condor's slider.

Mar 05, 2014 11:51 AM
rating: 0

How much does a prospect's fastball create context for evaluation of his change up?

Mar 05, 2014 12:32 PM
rating: 1

good article. thnx. interesting to see stroman mentioned in not 1 but 2 categories (i.e., slider, and command) as a potential leader. Blue Jay fans everywhere, take note (and forgive him any hiccups in 2014 as he learns the tendencies of the hitters he'll be facing.

Mar 07, 2014 21:31 PM
rating: 0
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