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January 30, 2013

Youth Movement

Respect the 8

by Mark Anderson

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Even as baseball fans and those within the industry gain a deeper understanding of statistics, one number remains largely misinterpreted and misunderstood. The elite post atop the traditional 2-8 (or 20-80) scouting scale, the 8 represents the territory so far to the right on the scouting bell curve that few scouts dare to tread there. It represents only the most elite of tools and should always be respected.

As a young scout learning the ropes in the mid-2000s, I didn’t immediately understand the significance of this extreme end of the scouting scale. But gradually, my respect for it grew as I began to understand its scarcity. In 2012, I watched countless games from high school to the pros. I spoke to scouts and industry insiders at all levels of baseball. And only very rarely did I hear mention of an elite-level tool.

Given the nature of scouting, elite grades are most often placed on fastball velocity and running speed. These are the only two traditional scouting categories that offer a standardized, empirical measurement-based scale by which grades are assigned. Pump your fastball consistently in the 97-plus-mph range, and you’re going to get an 8. Get down the line to first in less than 4.0 seconds from the right side (3.9 seconds from the left), and you’re going to get an 8.

The benefit of such a scale is that the risk of tossing around bold grades evaporates. But when grading all other tools, evaluators aren’t afforded that luxury, which makes the 8 grade far more nerve-wracking to commit to.

For the past couple of years, Billy Hamilton’s speed has fascinated us all. He’s raced to first fast enough to make stopwatches explode and routine groundballs become an adventure. Hamilton deserves something better than the top of the scale. He breaks the scale.

When I discussed players with scouts last year, two others were routinely cited as having legitimately elite speed: Toronto’s D.J. Davis and Philadelphia’s Roman Quinn. Of course, burners are relatively easy to find, and there are additional players with 8 speed in the minor leagues. But none was mentioned with the frequency reserved for Hamilton, Davis, and Quinn.

Elite fastballs are not as common as elite speed, but they are just as easily quantified, and players who possess them can be found in any season. While players like Gerrit Cole, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and others may reach the elite levels of the velocity scale at times, earning the occasional future 8 grade, no player exhibits extreme velocity like Detroit’s Bruce Rondon.

Rondon’s velocity is so consistently exceptional that I could select nearly any outing to highlight. I could discuss his famed showing in the 2012 Futures Game, or any of a dozen amusing exchanges with scouts after they saw him pitch for the first time. Instead, I want to explain what I saw in early August, the last time I saw Rondon live.

Entering the game in the ninth inning, Rondon threw 11 pitches; only five were strikes, but that’s not what’s important here. In those 11 pitches, he pumped eight fastballs with the following velocities: 98, 100, 101, 101, 99, 100, 102, 102. My gun isn’t hot, I promise. That, my friends, is an 8 fastball if there ever was one.

This is the point at which we exit the soothing confines of the shallow end of the pool and enter the murky waters that can make an evaluator look like an idiot. No longer do we have a defined scale to fall back on. Instead, we must venture into an abstract realm where observations and opinions can vary like the New England weather. This is where scouts get uneasy about putting 8’s on anything.

Elite power can stand out in any crowd, whether in batting practice or in game situations. It tends to be obvious. It also tends to be quite rare in today’s game. While scouts will occasionally mention players like Joey Gallo as having the raw potential to reach the heights of 8 power, rarely in recent times have we seen a stretch with so few classic power prospects.

There was only one viable name that came up last year as a candidate for 8 raw power: Minnesota’s Miguel Sano, who has immense raw. In the opinion of several front office officials I spoke to, Sano’s truly elite power stands alone in the minor leagues.

Defensive evaluations also struggle to reach the far right of the scouting scale. Not a single outfielder received present or future 8 scores from the scouts I spoke to last year. Similarly, not a single catcher earned an 8 for his defense. In fact, only San Diego’s Austin Hedges received a mention as a player with a remote chance of achieving such a score at some point down the line.

Among infielders, only the incomparable Jose Iglesias earned elite marks for his ability to flash the leather. His defense reminds scouts of Rey Ordonez. The only time scouts stop discussing his defensive prowess is to mention how weak his bat is, before quickly jumping back to the discussion of his almost pornographic defensive abilities.

Classically elite arm strength—like that of Shawon Dunston and Raul Mondesi—can also stand out in a crowd. Few arms in the minor leagues can reach such levels. Aaron Hicks’ name comes up on occasion as having an elite outfield arm, but that opinion is hardly held uniformly across the industry. Cubs infielder Junior Lake has an almost unanimous 8 arm, with some scouts suggesting he should move to the mound if he doesn’t hit enough to pull off a big-league career as a position player.

A player I’ve had ample exposure to, Detroit shortstop Dixon Machado, teeters on the precipice of owning an 8 arm. His slight frame can fire lasers across the diamond, and after watching a sequence of his throws during instructs last year, I engaged several scouts in a discussion of whether or not Machado’s arm warranted the rarest of rare grades. In the end, despite dissenting opinions from some of the other scouts in attendance, a few of us retained the belief that his arm was in fact elite. These are the murky waters I previously discussed, and we haven’t even approached the good stuff yet.

For many scouts, elite hitters don’t exist at the minor-league level; not as a projection, and certainly not in the here and now. Last year, for the first time in my career, multiple scouts were bold enough to suggest that a minor-league player might have the potential for a truly elite hit tool. Each of them, with a healthy dose of hesitation mixed in, squeaked out the name Oscar Taveras when the subject came up. That’s a seriously bold statement and one that led to open admissions of uneasiness when brought up with the BP Prospect Team.

A true 8 isn’t just the best tool relative to those of other current players—it has to stand up to the best of the best across the history of scouting. For that reason, not every tool will be represented in an annual survey of this nature. Given the variable nature of player development, a tool that previously rated as elite might not even sustain that designation the following year. I’ve made no mention of outfield defense, command, curveballs, sliders or change-ups in this discussion, because no player rated an 8 in those areas despite inquiries devoted to each.

We don’t get to live in the rarified air of elite tools. We only get to visit on occasion and cherish it while we have the chance. So don’t get discouraged if your favorite player isn’t mentioned as having an elite tool or elite potential. Instead, remember one rule: respect the 8.

Special thanks to Jason Cole, Chris Mellen, and Jason Parks for their contributions to the discussion of elite tools.

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

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  20-80 Scale

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

BP Comment Quick Links

tylersnotes

i have trouble understanding how an 8 defense even could be put on most players. It seems like defense is the most context-specific of these skills, and the opportunities to show 8 defense are most dependent on so many factors. If you think a guy in high school could be an 8 defensive outfielder, do you call him that or do you wait for him to show it at A, AA, etc before being so bold? Of all these tools, I would expect defense to be the one that reveals itself more in retrospect and is the hardest to judge on the 20-80 scale. Is that a fair assessment?

Jan 30, 2013 06:49 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Thanks for the question.

I don't think what you highlighted pertains to defense alone. Part of the point of this piece was to identify just how rare and special the "8" is in the game. Defense is extremely hard to project to that level, but it does exist on occasion. There are times where hindsight may reveal that someone has gotten to that level, but even those cases are rare.

Jan 30, 2013 10:29 AM
 
tylersnotes

to clarify- how do you separate, say, a 5 from a 7 in defense? i would think hit tool, arm strength, etc show themselves at all levels and even in batting practice. a 22 year old making flashy defensive plays in the outfield, though, would mean something different at high-A than it would at AA (i would assume). i wonder if context plays more into evaluating defense than other tools.

as a catcher, how many times do i need to catch billy hamilton stealing to go from looking like a 60 to looking like an 80? and if i attempt but just miss, how much of that is on me as the catcher rather than the pitcher or 2nd baseman who may not have been in position? how do you separate the flashy plays from the actual tools to determine the difference between a 70 and an 80 in defense?

Jan 30, 2013 16:20 PM
rating: 0
 
sandriola

To quote Joe Sheehan, I am not a scout. However, my understanding of scouting defense is that there is significant emphasis on the pre-pitch setup and first step of the defender. The outfielder who consistently has a good start on a route is going to project better than one who seems to be guessing half the time. Also, the one who's always making the diving catch may be doing so because of a weak first step. His youthful speed may hide that deficiency in the minors, but the future projection would suffer.

Jan 30, 2013 19:10 PM
rating: 0
 
tylersnotes

Makes perfect sense. Thanks. Still seems hard to evaluate the difference between a 6 and 7 here, but this explains a lot

Jan 31, 2013 04:48 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

It is hard to differentiate between grades in many cases. That's a large part of the reason grades aren't always consistent. It can vary with the plays you've seen them make, the way you perceive defense, etc.

Jan 31, 2013 05:20 AM
 
BillJohnson

I think Rosenthal has to be considered an 8 arm as well, and not just "at times" as you say. Derrick Goold, now chief baseball writer for the St. Louis paper that covers him, has written this: "Of his 81 pitches this postseason, Rosenthal has thrown 43 at 99 mph or faster, and his fastball has averaged 98.9 mph." And unlike Rondon, he's thrown them for strikes. His record for the whole post season (he added to the count after Goold's article) was: 142 pitches thrown; 101 strikes, for a 71% strike percentage. That's almost too good.

Jan 30, 2013 06:57 AM
rating: 4
 
Arm Side Run

I think "at times" is a fair way to put it. He was a reliver in the playoffs and in the regular season, and going max effort. But as a starter, its obviously a lot harder to maintain that velocity

Jan 30, 2013 07:57 AM
rating: 0
 
rwp9843

Rondon is a relief pitcher, is he not? Rosenthal was a relief pitcher at the Major League level but not at the Minor League Level, where he threw approximately 110 innings (roughly twice what Rondon threw last year). And, theoretically at least, hitting 99 mph or better is going to be more difficult in October, when temperatures are considerably cooler than they are in August.

The real question regarding pitch velocity, in my opinion, is what currently constitutes "elite" velocity given that multiple teams now have one or more pitchers in their bullpen that can hit triple digits and/or multiple pitchers that sit in the 95-99 mph range (e.g the Cardinals bullpen with Motte, Rosenthal, Boggs and Kelly). It seems to me that the target threshold for elite (or 8/80) velocity is moving. Given the size of current players, the quality of the physical conditioning and training that they receive, and improvements in the study and teaching of mechanics and kinesiology, I can't imagine there won't be more and more of these guys coming in the future. That said, and operating under the premise that an 8/80 grade should be reserved for only the most exceptional, I would classify Aroldis Chapman as having truly elite velocity and virtually everyone else as being not quite there, Rosenthal and Rondon included.

Jan 30, 2013 11:22 AM
rating: 3
 
Arm Side Run

Yes, Rondon is a relief pitcher, but its hard to look at Rosenthal's relief numbers and try to grade out the fastball if you think he's a starter. What's an 8 FB in the bullpen isn't necessarily an 8 FB in the rotation (in fact conventional wisdom says that's likely in most cases). Mark pretty clearly says that if you consistently hit 97, you're likely going to get an elite grade velocity wise. I don't think its a moving scale. Kevin and Jason talked about, almost ad nauseam, how the scale doesn't move on the old podcast and that its essentially set in stone so that when one scout to another "its an 8," they know exactly what it is.

Jan 30, 2013 17:02 PM
rating: 0
 
rwp9843

To add to my above comment, this trend of increasing player size and pitch velocity raises some interesting questions, in my opinion. At some point, doesn't Major League Baseball have to consider either moving the pitching rubber back or deadening the baseball? The thought of a batter being hit by a 105+ mph fastball, or a pitcher throwing that hard getting hit in the head by a line drive is frightening.

Jan 30, 2013 11:37 AM
rating: 1
 
NJTomatoes

Such options will only begin to be discussed after more than one player, within a reasonably close timeframe, is killed or suffers a permanent greviously serious injury.

Jan 30, 2013 12:29 PM
rating: 0
 
timber

You have to bring up Yordano Ventura as well, then, as he regularly hits 100 as a starter, and can take it up a notch or two from there if he wants.

Jan 30, 2013 08:16 AM
rating: 2
 
rrvwmr

I think it is tough to put an 80 grade on a guy named Trevor from the Midwest. This is a joke. (sort of)

Jan 30, 2013 08:37 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

For the purposes of this piece, my goal was to represent actual grades and discussions. In the case of Rosenthal, the scouts I spoke with saw him during the MiLB season and saw him hit those velocities at times and projected that he could get there more regularly in short bursts...which is exactly what we saw in the post season.

This article wasn't exhaustive. There are other guys, Ventura, Cleto, etc., that touch that range. My focus in the discussion of velocity was to identify that a fair number of guys can reach back for that, but very few live there.

Jan 30, 2013 10:37 AM
 
SC

I'd love to hear of players on the other end of the scale (who still have some prospect potential). Presumably there are lots of 2 runners out there, but what about the other tools?

Are there any 2 bats in the major leagues? 2 arm?

Jan 30, 2013 08:13 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

That's an interesting idea and not something I have tradutionamly concerned myself with. I will start asking around as I continue to talk to folks and see if it generates enough data for a reasonable article.

Jan 30, 2013 10:39 AM
 
rrvwmr

Probably a lot of 20 Power

Jan 30, 2013 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
MattWinks

I doubt there are any 2 bats. But otherwise there are a ton of 2 speed guys just looking at 1B/DH types, less than that number but certainly some are your 2 glove guys. Plenty of 2 power guys and some 2 arms. For example Juan Pierre has a 2 arm and 2 power, I don't know how many other guys have multiple 2 tools.

I am curious about the pitching side, I am sure there are plenty of 2 secondary pitches but those don't really count. There has to be a 2 control guy somewhere and a 2 fastball (though with movement some are better, it is tough to say a true 2 could work)

Jan 30, 2013 14:12 PM
rating: 1
 
SC

I guess that's my question, does Pierre really have a 2 arm? I would think a 2 arm couldn't play outfield at the MLB level.

This is what makes outliers so fascinating. On one end of the spectrum, an 8 tool can overwhelm the lack of other tools, or at the other, they have been able to overcome extreme deficiencies with unique or specific skill sets.

I suppose Tim Wakefield had 2 velocity, making up for it with 7 (?) command. I'd think 2 control guys don't get out of A ball (unless it's Ricky Vaugn).

Jan 30, 2013 15:24 PM
rating: 1
 
rrvwmr

Does Taveras need to display better strike zone awareness to earn an 80 grade? His approach seems a little vulnerable at higher levels...at least to the point where he's making weaker contact. I still think he's an All-Star in the near future.

Jan 30, 2013 08:45 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

As I alluded to in the piece, it wasn't easy to find scouts that would go that aggressive with Taveras' bat. The concerns weren't over hic approach, buy rather just the daunting nature of projecting a guy as an elite hitter.

Personally, Taveras' approach doesn't bother me that much. He is going to have to adjust as pitchers try to exploit his aggressiveness, but I have confidence in him doing that.

Jan 30, 2013 10:41 AM
 
deejaysurreal

It's great to have an 8 but in Iglesias's case it might not transform into much but a late inning def replacement because of his lack of hit tool. And even if you can throw 105 but you can't command and locate it what's the point. I think too often grades are just that grades. Sure X player has 8 speed but what else can he do. Even in Hamilton's case the guy could be even better if he read pitcher's better and got better jumps- I mean this kid is otherworldly. He needs to learn how to use it properly. I'm not saying scrap the scale but has anyone published a list of all these players year by year that get 8 grades and how they turned out?

Jan 30, 2013 08:52 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

I'm not aware of any data compilation similar to what you mentioned. It may exist within the industry, but don't know.

You're right, just having an elite tool doesn't make you a viable prospect, but that doesn't mean its not a fun and/or educational endeavor to explore the elite tools in the game right now.

Jan 30, 2013 10:48 AM
 
formersd

I think the easiest example of this is the Usain Bolt would get an '8' grade on speed, but is probably a horrible baseball player.

Jan 30, 2013 11:32 AM
rating: 0
 
tylersnotes

i believe there is still at least one A's team from history that would give him a shot

Jan 30, 2013 16:22 PM
rating: 3
 
IvanGrushenko

Possibly the 49ers and Cowboys as well

Jan 31, 2013 01:03 AM
rating: 0
 
Nater1177

I love this line...

The only time scouts stop discussing his defensive prowess is to mention how weak his bat is, before quickly jumping back to the discussion of his almost pornographic defensive abilities.

I apologize in advance for stealing it and using it at some point.

Jan 30, 2013 11:57 AM
rating: 0
 
cjmart29

Love the article, and not JUST because 3 of my hometown team boys get a mention for potential elite tools . Another example of my concerns being alleviated regarding BP content quality post-KG being alleviated. It's possible, however, that I had "KG tunnel vision" and failed to fully appreciate the other high quality content in the past. Either way, you guys are killing it this year and looking forward to more of the same. Money well spent.

Side note: Prospect rankings this year are actually more informative than before. It takes more effort to digest due to the granular nature of the analysis, but investing that effort returns a ton more value than previous years (this coming from an admitted KG fanboy). Talk about hitting the ground running. Looking forward to the rest of the rankings (and the prospect handbook). Especially looking forward to the loaded Cardinals list...that's probably one that should go 20 deep. Where to find the time? Just cut the Reds and Angels lists down to a top 5. 6-10 aren't really worth mentioning anyway, are they? ;)

Jan 30, 2013 12:18 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you liked the piece. It was a lot of fun to research and write!

Jan 30, 2013 12:30 PM
 
cjmart29

On the subject of fans becoming more familiar with the 20-80 (2-8) scale, even Mayo at MLB.com is using them for his top 100 this year. He probably has a BP subscription so I'll withhold my commentary on him...

Jan 30, 2013 13:22 PM
rating: -1
 
cjmart29

Doh, that was supposed to be a reply to my previous thread

Jan 30, 2013 13:23 PM
rating: 0
 
RedsManRick

It would be interesting & helpful to hear which active MLB players have '8' tools.

Jan 30, 2013 13:26 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Some of this came out during my research. We are discussing some follow-on articles on this topic as I type this....

Jan 30, 2013 13:38 PM
 
SC

KG discussed this in a podcast a while back (someday can we get them all transcribed and searchable?). There weren't many. Off the top of my head:

8 hit:
Pujols
Miguel Cabrera
Joe Mauer
Ichiro

8 power:
Josh Hamilton
Giancarlo Stanton

I believe they put an 8 on Ichiro's arm as well. I think he was the only guy with multiple 8 tools (I think they put a 7 on his wheels).

Jan 30, 2013 15:33 PM
rating: 0
 
gerrybraun

I think Miggy could lay claim to a 8 power tool if Hamilton has it

Jan 30, 2013 17:23 PM
rating: 0
 
rookie319s

Is the power number strictly based on Home Runs? If you hit a bunch of doubles you have to have a certain amount of power. It seems small but how much difference is there between a 6 player and a 7 player? Thanks Scott

Jan 30, 2013 13:40 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

The way power projection gets communicated is generall in terms of home run numbers, but a more complete picture can be described if you discuss extra-base potential in general. I do it as a part of my reports and that's pretty consistent throughout the industry. Home runs tend to be the piece people lock onto though....

Jan 30, 2013 13:50 PM
 
Chucko

Random question for you, Mark. How do you know that your radar gun is properly calibrated? I'm eternally skeptical of those things - nothing to do with my speeding ticket collection, I assure you! But seriously, given the shenanigans that both broadcasters and stadiums obviously and frequently get up to with their readings, why should I trust what scouts are packing?

Jan 30, 2013 15:13 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Fair question, Chucko.

Personally, I re-calibrate my gun regularly, both with the tool.provided by the manufacturer as well as by comparison to.the scouts around me througkut the year.

Jan 30, 2013 15:18 PM
 
Chucko

Sorry man, I didn't mean to sound like I was taking aim at you personally. Should have chosen my words more carefully...

Anyway, to save you from a step-by-step description of how these things work, can you tell me a respected model of radar gun so I can read up on its calibration? I'm just really curious about the technology since it's become such an important piece of baseball paraphernalia, and since I understand them only in the most basic of ways.

Thanks for the interesting article, and for taking a different tack when discussing the 20-80. I appreciate the opportunity to dig deeper into the experiences of people who have 'been there.' Thanks too for bothering to respond to comments this far down the tree!

Jan 30, 2013 16:59 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Thanks for responding? Thanks for taking an interest and asking questions. This is what I'm here for...

I have a Stalker Sport radar gun; one if a couple very common models within the industry.

Jan 30, 2013 18:44 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Mark - great article! Do you think that with the dearth of '8' power prospects, there might one day be a recalibration of what the various grades mean for the power tool? What about for any other tool? Thanks.

Jan 30, 2013 17:36 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Thanks, R.A.!

These things are cyclical. You won't see a change in the scale or how things are scouted, but you will see a difference in how those scarce tools are valued within the industry and on the open market.

Jan 30, 2013 18:41 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm surprised an 8 fastball has to do with velocity and not with control or command. Shouldn't it also have something to do with movement?

I thought the implication from the tool greades BP gives in their minor league reviews when looking at curveballs and changeups implies not just velocity, but movement, control and command.

Jan 30, 2013 20:09 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

In my reports, fastball grades are written up for velocity, movement and then the overall fastball. Command/control is written up as a separate "tool" and then the totality is thrown in the pot and discussed.

Different organizations use slightly different means to record things like this. Some organization I've seen just have one grade for the fastball that comprises everything. Others have multiple grades, including grades for the fastball velocity in the windup or stretch, movement, and overall.

Jan 31, 2013 05:22 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Whenever I see multiple grades, I always think of Out of the Park :)

Thanks for the reply.

Feb 01, 2013 12:50 PM
rating: 0
 
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