The final installment of a seven-part series on the top tools in the minors.
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.
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How can we distinguish between a pitcher's "command" and "control"? And what does that have to do with good writing?
In his sparkling debut for Baseball Prospectus last week, Doug Thorburn wrote perceptively and with iconoclastic intelligence about pitching mechanics.
“The ominous world of pitching is full of theoretical sand traps,” Thorburn wrote, “and modern research has uncovered the evidence to challenge some deep-rooted beliefs.” His article does just that. (And let me also put in a plug for “Raising Aces: Da Pitching Code,” which he published about a year ago on the Baseball Daily Digest web site and which provided some of the seeds of thought for last week’s BP article.)
Now that the hitters have had their time in the sun, it's time for the pitchers to gain the same recognition.
Best Tools: Utility y Projection (Starters) Fastball: Carlos Martinez (Cardinals) TCF: Martinez can dial it up to elite velocity levels, consistently working in the plus-plus range and reaching back for triple digits when necessary. The pitch doesn’t just ride to the plate on the back of velocity; the fastball has late life and explosion, making it even more difficult to square up. With refined command, the offering will stand above the rest, regardless of the role it is deployed in. It’s a monster pitch, an 80-grader in the making.
Curveball: Dellin Betances (Yankees) TCF: There are quite a few high-end curves in the minors, so the talent pool was deep and the decision was difficult. When polled, lefty Matt Moore’s power curve received more votes (it was close), but Betances had more fervent support, with one source calling it “a career-defining pitch.” It’s a long season, and this particular source has been in the sun for too many months without respite, but hyperbole aside, the pitch is legit. Coming from the arm of a man standing close to 6-foot-9, the tumbling knuckle-curve presents depth that hitters struggle to track, as the vertical dive is extreme and sharp. The command isn’t there yet, which limits Betances’ curveball’s overall effectiveness for now, but it’s still a plus pitch when it’s loose, and when Betances owns it, it’s plus-plus offering full of nastiness.
Taking an old piece of baseball advice to task with Sportvision's new COMMANDf/x system for tracking the catcher's glove.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Graham Goldbeck is a data analyst at Sportvision, the company behind PITCHf/x, HITf/x, COMMANDf/x, and FIELDf/x. In the past, Graham was a writer for the website Beyond the Boxscore and worked as a baseball operations intern for the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays.
Tall guys, short guys, and even starters can all profile as potential bullpen pieces.
Relievers are the byproduct of deficient starters, much like second basemen are to shortstops, or left fielders are to center fielders, or reality television “stars” are to the failures of human development. However, inherent deficiency doesn’t preclude potential value, because let’s face it, somebody has to pitch in relief (and be good at it), and somebody has to slide over to second base, and somebody has to get paid for candid promiscuity and binge drinking for our amusement.
When it comes to ranking relievers, I wanted to step away from the establishedconstruct and craft specific tiers to compartmentalize such an abstract pool of talent. After all, every pitcher in the minors could be considered a reliever, depending on the evaluation linked to each player. For this exercise, I spent a week talking to scouts, asking them about current relievers, current starters that could become relievers, and failed position players that have become relievers. If a scout mentioned a potential relief future, I documented it. If a scout failed to mention a reliever, despite his sparkling numbers, or your admiration for his services, I didn’t force the name into the mix. This article would require 10 parts to properly detail every arm that could have an impact in relief. That wasn’t the goal.
One prospect dominates the present and future of lefty pitching, while another southpaw is falling off the wagon.
For this series, I will be shuttling you through the minor leagues to discover the best talents at each position and ranking them in tiers according to skill, current and future ability, and whether the player in question is from Texas. Need to catch up on how I’m doing the rankings and the top right-handed pitchers? Take a look at Part I.
Baseball's Rule 5 draft, in many ways, is confined to the rural route of the annual winter meetings, so it doesn't get as much bandwidth/column inches as it should. But as many teams are learning or already know that the Rule 5 is a nifty way to add a high-ceiling prospect to the system. The catch, as you know, is that any team selecting a player in Rule 5 must keep the lucky draftee on the active major league roster for the entire season or until he can fake an injury substantial enough to eventually land him on the 60-day DL. Just last year, we saw teams choose a handful of vaguely useful to flat-out good relievers (e.g., Aquilino Lopez of the Blue Jays and Javier Lopez of the Rockies). And reaching back into the antediluvian mists of prehistory, luminary Roberto Clemente first made his way to the Pirates via Rule 5. This winter's crop is the least impressive since I've been closely following this draft, but there were still some engaging names on the board. So, in my stateliest Lance Ito fashion, I shall now pass judgment on the 2003 class of Rule 5 draftees. All rise...
Baseball's Rule 5 draft, in many ways, is confined to the rural route of the annual winter meetings, so it doesn't get as much bandwidth/column inches as it should. But as many teams are learning or already know that the Rule 5 is a nifty way to add a high-ceiling prospect to the system.