From organization to organization, the debate rages on: tools or performance? Tools are easy to figure out. You can look at a player on the field, watch the game, and figure out the tools a guy has. Does he have a plus arm? Prolific power? Blazing speed? Scouts regularly grade those traits and send the results back to the home office. Performance on the other hand isn’t something that can be taken in during one sitting at a game. As such, some players who may lack specific tools may find it difficult to garner attention–it’s much easier to impress with say, a dash around the bases than it is with a walk.
Thanks partly to the hiring of Theo Epstein as General Manager, the Boson Red Sox now lean heavily toward the performance side of the debate. Toiling for the Sox is a flashpoint player in the tools vs. performance debate–Kevin Youkilis. While lacking in several of the tools that scouts covet, Youkilis was an offensive machine in college, hitting .405 his senior year, with 18 home runs, 61 RBI, 22 stolen bases, and a .549 on-base percentage. Still, it was not until his summer in the Cape Cod League, where he continued to rake the ball, that he finally began grabbing attention on a larger scale. Youkilis was recently chosen to represent America in the Futures Game at All-Star Weekend. BP Correspondent Mark Haverty sat down with Youkilis to discuss tools vs. performance, the Red Sox, and the Cape Cod League.
Baseball Prospectus: In the “Tools vs. Stats” debate, you’ve been used as an example in many outlets of the stats side. You continued to produce throughout college, yet most scouts were not interested in you until you went down to the Cape League after four years of school. What are your personal feelings on the debate?
Kevin Youkilis: There’s a lot of guys like me, in my situation. We have to battle through college, and a lot of us have to go to the fourth year, and not get the head start in pro ball that a lot of the guys with the tools get. The so-called five-tool players get the opportunity before a lot of guys that don’t show the five tools. You put up good numbers, but get questioned. It’s hard for scouts. If a guy with the five tools doesn’t produce, they can say they measured the player using tools, and this is the set way that every other scout measures a player. If a guy that puts up numbers in college doesn’t produce though…
A lot of times, a good baseball player is a good baseball player–we’re a different type of athlete. That’s why I think just because you’re the best athlete does not mean you’re the best baseball player.
BP: With the success you are having in the minors now, and guys like David Eckstein, a similar player that also came up through the Red Sox, in the majors, do you see teams shifting away from a reliance on tools, and more toward using stats?
KY: I think they’re always going to keep in mind the tools, but I think guys getting bigger signing bonuses will make people get away from (just relying on) tools a little bit. That’ll always be around though.
BP: You made a big statement for yourself at the Cape Cod League. For someone that has never seen it, how would you describe it?
KY: It’s a great environment for baseball, a lot of fans like to come out and enjoy themselves. That’s what they gear themselves for in Cape Cod, the summertime. Harsh winters and great summers because they have nicer weather and baseball. It’s a treat to go up there and showcase your talent. Everyday, there are radar guns and guys with sunglasses and khakis scouting you out. It’s an experience you’ll always remember because every day is a test. If you’re looking to go on to the next level, which every guy there is, the key is to produce there, impress the scouts, and have fun. It’s a great league–enjoy it while you can.
BP: The Red Sox traded away Shea Hillenbrand to Arizona earlier this season. He seemed like the most obvious obstacle in your path to the majors. Did you have any thoughts on the trade at the time, like there’s your spot in a year?
KY: I really don’t think I thought of a timetable or anything. Bill Mueller‘s still there, and he has another year on his contract that I know of, so he’s going to be there next year. I’m not really focused on that; one less guy always helps your chances of getting up higher, so that’s basically how I thought of it–one less guy. Basically, not that big of a deal; still got to produce here at this level, keep working hard, and producing every step I go.
BP: Your mindset at the plate is different than a lot of other younger players in that you go up to the plate with the idea of taking pitches. While others go up looking to get the home run to be noticed, you’ll take the walk. Do you think that hurt you initially in trying to get noticed? What type of coaching early on helped put you in that mindset?
KY: Getting recognized, the key is your first year of pro ball. The easiest way of getting recognized is doing something flashy, some type of number–home runs, average–do something crazy, where something’s going to pop out. That’s the biggest key. I got lucky that I walked 70 times, and had a high on-base percentage, but I also hit .300. That’s the key–I had one little thing, the 70 walks, that allowed me to do that.
What helped me out was my college coach. He always stressed hitting good pitches, not swinging at pitcher’s pitches, not swinging at curveballs in the dirt early in the count. So, I think I got a lot of that in college; I always had a good eye, but he (helped a lot). He showed percentages of how many pitchers throw curveballs for strikes rather than fastballs, so you go up there looking to hit fastballs rather than curveballs out of the zone.
BP: Theo Epstein and the new regime in Boston stress on-base percentage, taking pitches–basically, doing what you do. Have you talked to either Epstein or his front office this year at all, and if so, what have they said to you?
KY: At the beginning, they had a little talk about what they would like to do in the minors with it, and Theo…Theo told to just keep going and doing what I do, and that’s the key, get on base, draw walks. He said, ‘don’t do anything different, just keep playing your game.’ That helped out a lot, just to know that I was doing the right thing, and that it’s something that the general manager likes.
BP: This weekend, you will be playing in the Futures Game. What were your thoughts when you got the announcement?
KY: Oh, I was shocked. I didn’t even…I forgot all about the Futures Game after last year. I only knew about it because I knew a couple of people in it. I never even thought about it, even in the back of my head. It was funny. When I was told, I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it, but it was great. It was a great feeling, to be invited to something that significant in baseball now. It’s starting to become a big deal, and it’s great that I’m going to have the opportunity to play in that game.
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