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March 11, 2013

Top Tools

Arm Strength

by BP Prospect Staff

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Top Infield Arm in the Minor Leagues: Junior Lake (Chicago Cubs)

There are open questions about Lake’s ability to play shortstop and hit at the major-league level, but there are no questions about his arm. He has the ability to unleash lasers with tremendous velocity and good accuracy from anywhere on the infield, and possesses the athleticism and utility to flash similar strength while on the run. Lake’s arm is a legit 80-grade cannon and is quite easily the best among prospects currently in the minor leagues. As an elite tool, Lake’s arm strength would be a weapon at any position on the diamond, including on the mound, where some scouts believe he may end up long term.

Other Players Considered: Kaleb Cowart (Los Angeles Angels), Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers), Dixon Machado (Detroit Tigers)

Both Cowart and Machado have premium arms that earn consistent 70 grades and the occasional 75 or 80 from the left side of the infield. I (Mark Anderson) have gone on record multiple times as believing that Machado does in fact possess an elite-level arm. Gallo represents a lesson in tool utility: Although he shows raw arm strength in the 70-80 range, his footwork and lack of accuracy force the tool down the scale and out of true consideration.

Top Major-League Arm: Brendan Ryan (Seattle Mariners)
All-Time Tool: Shawon Dunston

How to Identify It:

Elite arm strength among infielders is not a subtle skill—it stands out and nearly smacks you in the face when you see it. Beyond identifying the best arms, rating this tool becomes far more art than science. Watching how throws are made from deep in the hole at short, behind the bag at second, and from foul territory at third base can offer telling signs. As you see these throws, you should be looking for good velocity across the diamond, as well as tracking the trajectory of the throw. You want to see the ball traveling on a line to first base and not showing arc that hints at a lack of arm strength. The utility of raw arm strength also plays a factor in grading the overall tool. Players with good raw strength and high utility will show consistent mechanics, good accuracy and an ability to show the same type of velocity while on the move. Both aspects of the tool are considered strongly when developing the final grade. In the end, the top and bottom of the scale are obvious, but differentiating between a below-average, average, or plus arm can be difficult, and scores may vary considerably from one scout to the next.


Top Outfield Arm in the Minor Leagues: Aaron Hicks (Minnesota Twins)

Though his path to the upper levels of the minor leagues has been lengthy, due more to his offensive development than anything else, Hicks’ arm strength has always graded out near the top of the scouting scale. His arm is a plus-plus rocket that frequently elicits elite grades. While the raw strength is evident (Hicks hit the mid-90s as a pitcher in high school), he also exhibits consistent throwing mechanics and a very quick release—elements that help to maximize the utility of the tool.

Other Players Considered: Byron Buxton (Minnesota Twins), Che-Hsuan Lin (Houston Astros)

Buxton, Hicks’ future teammate, shows off his own 70-grade arm from center field, and there are some talent evaluators, including a couple in the Twins organization that believe he could have a stronger arm than Hicks down the road. It is difficult to project significant development in outfielders’ arm strength, but with a player with Buxton’s athleticism, anything is possible. Lin features another true 70-grade arm that plays at that level in games and fits well in right field.

Top Major-League Arm: Bryce Harper (Washington Nationals)
All-Time Tool: Jesse Barfield

How to Identify It:

Similar to identifying arm strength on the infield, the top and bottom of the scale in the outfield can jump off the field and become very obvious to any onlooker. While the results are what really matter, there is a greater focus on how the player accomplishes those results in the outfield than in the infield. As an evaluator, I (Mark Anderson) want to see a longer arm sweep and an over-the-top throwing motion, allowing the throw to stay true and not drift to either side. I look for throws to stay on a line and exhibit good carry to their destination. As a means to make a case stronger or clarify an opinion, the way the ball bounces on lower throws can be an indicator of arm strength. Though it is not a guaranteed indicator, balls that “skip” off the ground rather than catch and “hop” as they approach their target are often the work of a high-level arm. With outfield arms, the difference between above-average and plus arms can be even more difficult to pinpoint. Taking everything into consideration—including the velocity, throwing mechanics and even the bounce—can help to paint the complete picture that leads to a more accurate score.


Top Catcher Arm in the Minor Leagues: Christian Bethancourt (Atlanta Braves)

Anybody can look at the consistently sub-1.80 second pop times or even the occasional 1.65 pop and understand that Bethancourt has massive arm strength. The numbers do tell the story here, but they don’t do it justice. Bethancourt’s arm is a dominating tool that blows away the rest of the minor leagues. Almost incredibly, Bethancourt’s arm can actually “play up” even more, because of his lightning-quick release and impeccable accuracy.

Other Players Considered: Jorge Alfaro (Texas Rangers), Austin Hedges (San Diego Padres), Carlos Paulino (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Bethancourt has the best arm in the minor leagues, but Hedges isn’t far behind, and the Padres prospect is a better all-around defender. Hedges maximizes his 70-grade arm strength with a quick release that may allow it to play a half-tick higher, giving him exceptional utility. Alfaro and Paulino also flash 70-grade arms that can cut down foolhardy base stealers in their tracks.

Top Major League Arm: Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)
All-Time Tool: Ivan Rodriguez

How to Identify It:

When looking at and trying to grade a catcher’s arm strength, the telltale sign for me (Mark Anderson) has always been the appearance of the throw as it travels to second base. Whether it’s an illusion or not, the strongest throws have the appearance of being thrown on a downward plane to the bag, sometimes with a steep angle toward the receiver at the keystone. The pop time can hint at the strength of a player’s arm, but a scout cannot rely solely on that number to develop the final grade. The transfer from glove to throwing hand, footwork, and even arm angle can impact the pop time, taking away some of the value of the number in terms of gleaning grades for raw arm strength. Instead, scouts can use the pop time as a hint, but must also rely on the trajectory, apparent velocity, and carry across the diamond.

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

BP Comment Quick Links

David Schwalb

I find this type of article a great counter balance to the metric based foundation of BP. It's a great way to learn some advanced points of the "tools" by using minor and major leaguers as case studies.

Mar 11, 2013 05:27 AM
rating: 6

I've been looking forward to the "tool series" -- thanks, Jason!

More broadly, and to build on David Schwalb's point, I was just thinking this weekend that fielding represented a potential "growth area" for BP. Especially given how much the various fielding metrics disagree with each other, and given how much individual players' FRAA can vary from year to year, I would love to see more stuff on how to evaluate fielding from a scouting point of view. (To take an example from this year's annual, what does it mean when we read that Alcides Escobar needs to work on his "footwork"? What might we look for in a shortstop who is excellent or needs work in this area?) This is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind -- what to look for when you watch a guy throw.

It would also be cool to see analysis of the mechanics of fielding in the mold of Doug Thorburn's analyses of pitching mechanics. I love Thorburn's use of GIFs to help elucidate the component motions of a pitcher's delivery.

Mar 11, 2013 11:13 AM
rating: 6
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

Thanks for the tip of the cap, bobbygrace!

I think that video is much more informative for pitchers, especially when judging mechanics, than it is for any other tool or skill. Video is extremely limited for defensive evaluation, given the wide swatch of important information occurring all over the field yet the narrow view of the camera lens. The angles used for most TV feeds are terribly inefficient for evaluating hitting skills, and I completely agree with Mark regarding the importance of live-scouting these skills.

Pitching is unique - there are minimal outside variables to interfere with the pitcher doing his job (whereas batters are at the mercy of the quality of pitches thrown). The pitching delivery is also rooted in repetition, and so the ability to replay a pitch, to compare multiple deliveries simultaneously, or to press the "pause" button mid-delivery using video are advantageous (my brain has not yet mastered those skills).

Live scouting provides a clearer picture of the various skills on the diamond, and I would not have been able to develop an eye for pitching without first having live-scouted thousands of pitchers. But I also think that pitching is uniquely suited for video analysis, while the game feeds that are currently available are insufficient for evaluating most other skills on the diamond.

Mar 11, 2013 18:26 PM
Mike Schieve

I agree with David, great read.

Mar 11, 2013 05:45 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Thanks, guys! It was a lot of fun to discuss with the Prospect Team and interesting to write up as well.

We are planning to work through all the tools, with defense up next.

Mar 11, 2013 07:00 AM
Sam F

Really look forward to the next installment. How much scouting happens over video vs. live during games? Has video made certain tools easier to scout? Made the overall process less error-prone?

Mar 11, 2013 07:35 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

I personally use video very little, if at all. There is still a ton you can't pick up from video. I'm a live guy all the way, and I know the Prospect Team here at BP is very much the same way.

There is a place for video in the analysis of players, but personally, not in the scouting of minor league talent.

Mar 11, 2013 07:53 AM

I'm curious as to how far back the "All time tool" goes. The stories I've heard about Clemente make me assume that this only goes back to the 80s. Is this correct? (Enjoyed the article a lot, too.)

Mar 11, 2013 07:05 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

The "All Time Tool" goes back as far as it needs to. On other lists we are considering players much further back than the 1980s.

In selecting Barfield, the BP Team tossed out several viable names and discussed them internally. As I began writing up the piece and making the final selections, I made some calls to long-time scouts that had years and years of experience...the consensus came back Barfield. That doesn't mean Clemente didn't have an exceptional arm, it just means the polling we conducted went with Barfield.

Mar 11, 2013 07:55 AM

In order to talk to scouts who were pro scouts when they saw Clemente, you'd need to be talking to some real old-timers. It might make an interesting article to interview them about changes in scouting through the years. (By the way, I was a kid when I saw Clemente, and I would NEVER have taken an extra base against him.)

Mar 11, 2013 08:32 AM
rating: 2

That'd be badass. Just interview them as a means to get cool stories, "Well I remember when I was scouting a yooooooung don mattingly!"

Mar 11, 2013 08:39 AM
rating: 1

Not challenging the Barfield pick, though Ellis Valentine was the guy I loved to see throw from right field.

I remember a great story, allegedly from the former Giants farmhand Ollie Brown. Someone mentioned what a great right arm he had, and he said, "Maybe, but I'd trade it right now for a great bat."

Mar 11, 2013 10:40 AM
rating: 0

Curious who else you kicked around? Vladdy?

Mar 11, 2013 14:37 PM
rating: 2
Brady Childs

How Alfaro isn't number 1 at everything is beyond me.

Mar 11, 2013 07:22 AM
rating: 6
Sam F

Because like PECOTA, they hate your team and every player on the roster. The prospect staff extends their irrational loathing to your team's minor leaguers.

Mar 11, 2013 07:30 AM
rating: -2


Mar 11, 2013 08:46 AM
rating: 10

Yeah I bet Parks had input into this list. We all know he HATES Alfaro.

Mar 11, 2013 11:22 AM
rating: 1

Bethancourt has that good of an arm. Alfaro isn't too far behind though in my opinion

Mar 11, 2013 09:37 AM
rating: 0

Never saw Jesse Barfield throw but it feels like his son, Jeremy, throws someone out trying to go first to third on a single to right once a series.

Mar 11, 2013 08:01 AM
rating: 0
David Schwalb

OF assists as a stat can be as misleading as errors. It could be that Jeremy's arm is so bad that everyone tries for third, so he nails a guy every once in a while. This being said, I have no idea about his arm strength, just a point regarding your observation.

Mar 11, 2013 08:06 AM
rating: 1

Yea, fair enough. I was pretty vague with that comment. I believe BA had him rated as the top OF arm in the Texas League last year, though. He has a cannon.

Mar 11, 2013 08:12 AM
rating: 0

Correction: Che-Hsuan Lin is in the Astros organization right now. I know we're going to be bad, but you don't have to just IGNORE us... *sniff*

Mar 11, 2013 08:07 AM
rating: 3
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

I thought they were using the team the player was on when they saw the tool, but listing Lin on the Red Sox can be misleading. I made the correction. Thank you

Don't worry, we don't ignore the Astros! We have alumni in that front office. :)

Mar 11, 2013 08:33 AM

I have heard stories that in pre-game warmups while at Fenway Park, Rocky Colavito would throw balls from home plate into the center field bleachers. My arm hurts just thinking about throwing the ball that far.

Mar 11, 2013 09:38 AM
rating: 2
Jim ONeill

Repping for the old-old-old timer's I can only say that its very difficult to argue the Barfield pick. Big, powerful arm with good carry and accuracy. Clemente was an elegant right-fielder, much like Dewey Evans, with a plus arm whose flashiness made his arm look and play better than it was. Dave Parker had a cannon until he had some injury issues and was never particularly accurate. But for pure arm strength, Colavito was other-worldly, with exceptional carry. Of course, sometimes it might carry into the Nathan's Hot Dog stand which was always the Rock's only throwing flaw.

Mar 14, 2013 07:05 AM
rating: 0

Advanced scouting + Saber metrics = Baseball Enlightenment the Dali Lama would be proud of.

Mar 11, 2013 09:45 AM
rating: 1

First, let me preface this by saying I have no problem with your selection of Molina for the current catcher. I'm just curious who else was on the short list. As a KC fan, I love Salvy's throws, but I think alot of his skill is based upon the "pop time". Super quick release... Also, would be curious of short list for IF and OF current MLBers. Thanks...

Mar 11, 2013 10:21 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

The selection of Molina as the best arm among MLB catchers was unanimous. During internal or external discussions, nobody even mentioned another player.

Among infielders, Adrian Beltre, Mike Moustakas, Andrelton Simmons, Brendan Ryan and Miguel Tejada were all mentioned at various points.

On the outfield side, Harper was far and away the most consistently mentioned, but Alex Gordon earned a couple mentions as well.

Mar 11, 2013 10:45 AM

Adrian Beltre! Astounding arm...

Mar 11, 2013 10:23 AM
rating: 0

Furcal back in ATL was crazy. Didn't always get it to the glove but it was amazing to watch him make a good hard throw to get out a runner at first.

Mar 11, 2013 10:49 AM
rating: 2

I was coming here to say this. Someone had to mention furcal. His arm strength was incredible. I haven't seen barfield but he would have to be mighty impressive to beat furcal.

Mar 11, 2013 10:58 AM
rating: 0

Do MLB teams employ video for this? With sufficient resolution, they could probably clock throws during drills, and measure where they arrive.

I'm not sure how easy it would be to use a radar gun even during batting practice, as the origin of the throw will move around a good bit. But a drill where a shortstop stands on an 'X' while a machine chucks enough ground balls to either side randomly could produce consistent results.

Failing that, maybe there's a niche market for a baseball with embedded accelerometers.

Mar 11, 2013 11:25 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

They do use video to time and assess the accuracy of throws.

Mar 11, 2013 13:26 PM
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Radar guns are used by scouts on the amateur side during infield/outfield (depending on surroundings). I have used guns in-game for infielders when I really needed data or had limited looks at a player (which essentially involved standing behind first and praying for a groundball that would necessitate a hard throw -- not fun).

Mar 11, 2013 14:31 PM

Would love to here what longtime scouts/players/coaches had to say about old timers. I saw Clemente the last series he played in S.D. and he was sick...didn't play..but warmed up before the game briefly...I was with my dad. We were in the left field bleachers across the field, and to this day we think we watched him shag about a half dozen fly balls on the warning track out somewhere in right field and throw perfect strikes to the catcher chest high...what stood out was we both feel like we think we saw the second baseman at about the base path let the ball go by at his mid shin level...the ball appeared to be rising when it got to the catcher...little kid and old man memories, how accurate. The view angle theoretically seemed good to tell the trajectory, though that wall was 17 feet high, but it was 330 feet away from the action. I have never seen that since, or heard of it so, I have always wondered if I was seeing things. Have always wanted to hear from coaches and players at the time if they experienced rising balls from him. It is impossible right!? Anyways that is my sharing accurate or not.

Mar 11, 2013 12:04 PM
rating: 3

Sounds like the throw skipped once on the infield before reaching the catcher.

Mar 11, 2013 12:49 PM
rating: 0

No, that is what was so amazing, it didn't...optical illusion? Don't know, but when dad and I talk about strong arms we always talk about what ever it was we saw.

Mar 11, 2013 18:11 PM
rating: 0

christian vazquez in the red sox system has been getting a bit of pop-time hype this spring. give any thought to him for catcher crew or no

Mar 11, 2013 12:05 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Vazquez received a couple of passing mentions but nothing that would have put him in serious contention for the list.

Mar 11, 2013 12:09 PM
BP staff member Chris Mellen
BP staff

I've got Christian Vazquez as a solid 60 on the arm. His release has been much improved over the course of the last season or so, but wouldn't put the arm in the upper tier category. His throws can tail away from the bag and lack accuracy. Don't get me wrong the arm is an asset for him and is above-average, but when racking and stacking it isn't in the upper echelon category.

Mar 12, 2013 21:17 PM

Any consideration for Carlos Correa or Miguel Sano?

Mar 11, 2013 13:17 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Mark Anderson
BP staff

Neither was brought up in any meaningful way as part of this piece.

Mar 11, 2013 13:34 PM

how much better is Yadier Molina than Matt Wieters? Same tier?

Mar 11, 2013 18:39 PM
rating: -3

Love this.

Mar 11, 2013 19:41 PM
rating: 0

I thought Correa broke some record for MPH across the diamond.

Mar 11, 2013 20:13 PM
rating: 0

No love for Roberto Perez's arm behind the plate? Consistently in the 1.7-1.8 range everytime I've clocked him.

Mar 12, 2013 09:47 AM
rating: 0

Starling Marte would throw circles around these guys!

Mar 13, 2013 08:40 AM
rating: 0

Brendan Ryan has a stronger throwing arm than Troy Tulowitzki??? Really???

Mar 13, 2013 12:02 PM
rating: -1
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