During a recent and excessively long Twitter chat (@ProspectMark), someone asked what the best tools still in the minor leagues were. It’s a great question that warrants some discussion even though I haven’t yet to finish all of my postseason calls with coaches, scouts and front office types. I won’t hit on every tool imaginable, but I will tackle several of the more prominent ones quickly. The only players I am considering for this list are those that finished the season in the minor leagues, regardless of 2013 prospect status.
Best Hitter – Oscar Tavares (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
There are plenty of really good hitters and a few potential batting champions in the minor leagues right now, but none of them come close to what Tavares is capable of doing with the bat. Tavares has the potential to lead the league in hitting from the get go and he should be a perennial contender for the batting crown. He has an incredibly aggressive swing but matches that with obscene bat control, enabling him to make contact on tons of pitches, and make hard contact on those pitches. He’s an elite-level hitter and have no qualms saying that.
Best Power – Miguel Sano (3B, Minnesota Twins)
It’s a lot of raw power and there are other players that warrant consideration for this spot, but I’m a huge fan of Sano and believe his raw power is truly at the top of the scale. He can drive the ball out of any part of any park without even trying and despite some swing-and-miss issues, he still has a ton of in-game power right now. Sano has the potential to hit 40-plus home runs in the Major Leagues and that’s not something you can say about many minor leaguers.
Best Speed – Billy Hamilton (OF, Cincinnati Reds)
There are a lot of really fast people in the minor leagues but nobody matches what Hamilton offers. He’s an insanely fast runner and if you could grade higher than 80 on the scouting scale, his speed would deserve such a mark. He has exceptional acceleration and tons of top end speed, making him a premium runner in every facet. He’s an old-school type player that could steal 100 bases in the big leagues.
Best Catcher Defense – Austin Hedges (C, San Diego Padres)
There are catchers that can argue they have better present skills than Hedges, but I really don’t care one bit. Hedges has an exceptional blend of present skills (which are very, very good) and projection remaining. He is an advanced receiver, good blocker and he calls a good game as well. His catch-and-throw skills can match just about anybody in the minor leagues and he has a chance to be a true force behind the plate in the mold of Ivan Rodriguez.
Best Fastball – Bruce Rondon (RHP, Detroit Tigers)
I’ve watched Rondon light my radar gun up to 103 in Double-A this year and I promise you my gun isn’t hot. His fastball is at the top of the scouting scale and it doesn’t lack movement either. Other pitchers might be able to match his raw velocity, but he adds such strong boring action and natural life that his fastball can be almost impossible to square up. When it’s in the strike zone, good luck to the hitter. Rondon has crazy arm strength and the profile of an overpowering closer, thanks to a triple-digit fastball that can blow anybody away.
Best Breaking Ball – Gerrit Cole (RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates)
There are probably some breaking balls – whether slider or curve – that scouts will tell you they like better. For me, I’ll take the legit 70-grade slider of Gerrit Cole. He can snap off a slider that will make hitters cry and there are times where I am tempted to throw an 80 on the pitch. It’s a near-elite offering that can miss bats with ease and compliments his elite fastball very well.