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April 5, 2013
Top Tools: Best Speed, Baserunning, and Makeup
There are 80-grade runners and then there’s Billy Hamilton. Almost to a person, Hamilton was dubbed the fastest player the BP Prospect Team and industry scouts had seen in their careers. In his past two minor-leagues seasons, Hamilton has stolen 258 bases across three levels. In 2012 he broke a long-standing minor-league record and ended the season with 155 steals in just 132 games. As if the stolen base totals weren’t enough evidence of Hamilton’s blinding speed, scouts routinely report home-to-first times in the 3.40-3.45 second range; blowing the 20-80 scale out of the water. Hamilton is an elite runner in every respect. He gets up to top speed in just a few quick steps, sustains his speed well while running the bases and has shown good closing speed in the outfield. Hamilton’s speed is a game-changing tool that will carry him to the big leagues, and the second he steps on a big league field he will be the fastest player in the history of the game.
There are plenty of 80-grade runners in the minor leagues; they’re just not as fast as Hamilton. Davis and Quinn have stood out as legitimate 80-grade runners in every sense of the phrase. Gore earned extensive praise for his top-end speed with consistent 8s from scouts. As if Buxton’s wealth of potential plus tools weren’t enough, he brings elite speed to the table as well, making him a threat on the bases and in center field.
All-Time Tool: Vince Coleman
How to Identify It: The baseline for identifying speed remains the home-to-first time. This time is determined by starting the stopwatch at the crack of the bat and stopping the watch the instant a player’s foot hits the first base bag. The basic scale for assigning grades to home-to-first times is as follows:
In a perfect world, these grades are assigned on the basis of multiple home-to-first times, giving the scout a clear picture of the player’s typical speed. There will be some variation in times turned in by a player, depending on their “dig” or how they get out of the box, and collecting multiple times can allow for a more accurate representation of what should be expected day to day. From this basic grade a scout can project how they believe a player will maintain his speed long term. Much of this projection hinges on the body type and how the player is expected to mature. The application of a player’s speed will be factored into other grades on a scouting report, including his defense, baserunning. For players for whom speed is a considerable part of the game, it will also be accounted for when grading the hit tool.
Already an elite runner, Gore brings exceptional baserunning instincts to the table as well. He has shown uncanny aptitude for reading both right-handed and left-handed pitchers from first base, allowing him to gain a tremendous advantage over any catcher trying to gun him down. In addition, Gore reads the ball very well after it is hit, giving him the opportunity to break early on balls that will be out of the reach of a defender and have a chance to sneak an extra base because of his excellent jump. On his own hits, Gore does a very good job of reading the relationship between the defender and the ball, and knowing the outfielder’s arm strength to make a determination on taking extra bases. As BP’s Jason Parks put it, “He doesn’t make outs on base.”
Neither Jackie Bradley or Francisco Lindor are what scouts would consider burners. They are above-average runners who can impact the game on the bases because of their natural instincts and baserunning acumen. Generally speaking, both Bradley and Lindor are lauded for their high baseball IQ, and that flashes when they take extra bases thanks to heady reads and excellent jumps. On the other hand, Quinn offers elite speed and has shown quality instincts, allowing his speed to play up a notch. Quinn is still refining his ability to read pitchers and get jumps when stealing bases, but his ability to read the ball and defenders in order to take extra bases is already very good.
All-Time Tool: Tim Raines
How to Identify It: Baserunning can be difficult to pin down without focusing on a player and having the opportunity to see him during multiple games. So much of identifying baserunning hinges on the situations a player faces in a game, so a scout can go several days without really having a feel for how a player reacts once on base. When a player reaches first base, a scout may focus on how he reads the pitcher; looking to see how the player reacts to what the pitcher does. Does he consistently misread lefties by stepping back to the bag when the pitchers are in fact going to the plate? Does he get a good jump on his secondary lead or steal attempt when the pitcher does go to the plate? Beyond a player’s feel for stealing bases, baserunning grades also account for the ability to properly read balls off the bat, getting appropriate jumps on balls that are going to fall for hits, and taking extra bases with intelligence rather than reckless abandon. Noticing these factors takes a keen eye amidst the other action on the field. Scouts are looking for any hesitation when rounding bases, how quickly a runner is moving when the ball is put in play and, more simply, how frequently a player creates an out on the bases.
While his obvious baseball ability is what draws most of the attention, Lindor’s makeup allows his tools and skills to play at a high level in any environment. Lindor is an exceptionally hard worker who works to eliminate the weaknesses in his game as well as refine his strengths. He offers an intelligence and level-headedness on the field that are unusual for a player his age. Lindor’s ability to deal with failure and continue performing at a high level stands out among his peers as well as among players significantly older than him. He is an extremely competitive player who shows an ability to elevate his level of play to match the skill level of the players around him. Everything about Lindor hints at the exceptional makeup he carries behind his impressive tool set. From the way he interacts with others to the way he carries himself on and off the field, Lindor epitomizes top notch makeup.
The list of players considered for best makeup in the minor leagues could have gone on forever. Jose Fernandez’s story has been well chronicled in recent days and he easily could have slotted in the top spot instead of Lindor. Fernandez is mature beyond his years and has every desirable trait in a player. The same can be said of Albert Almora and Jurickson Profar, who both have that intangible quality about their games. Throughout the spring, scouts had wonderful things to say about the work ethic, maturity and on-field composure of Orioles teammates Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Both pitchers have what it takes to move very quickly through the minor leagues and they have the maturity to handle a big-league assignment very early in their respective careers.
All-Time Tool: Jackie Robinson
How to Identify It: Makeup is without a doubt the most complicated attribute a scout is asked to evaluate. It’s not about being a nice guy and it isn’t any one thing. Makeup is a combination of work ethic, competitiveness, desire, leadership, intelligence, dealing with failure and so much more. There is no clean way to evaluate a player in any one of these areas. It’s a messy gray area that requires more than just time and personal observation. It requires a scout to talk to players, coaches and other scouts to get a feel for how a player acts. It requires a bit of a history with a player, including the possibility of actually knowing the player personally. A player’s makeup is born out over time and evolves as he matures emotionally. Being arrogant or a jerk doesn’t preclude a player from having generally positive makeup, but it can disguise the fact that he is a positive influence in other ways and is considered to have “it.” Deciphering a player’s makeup is never as simple as watching how early he shows up to the park, how hard he works on an offday, or how he treats media members. It’s about how he acts and reacts in a variety of situations that tells a scout whether or not a player has the makeup to handle the rigors of major-league life.
Article discussed and debated by the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team. Constructed and delivered by Mark Anderson.