Since MLB Pipeline started putting tools grades on its prospects report seven years ago, just one player ever had earned a top-of-the-scale 80 for his hitting ability. Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did so in 2018 and again last year, when he ranked atop our Top 100 Prospects list.
Now there's a second in Rays shortstop Wander Franco, who keeps following along Guerrero's path.
Both hail from the Dominican Republic and had the most offensive upside in their international amateur classes (2015 for Guerrero, 2017 for Franco). They broke into pro ball by laying waste to the Appalachian League as the youngest batting qualifiers (age 17) in the advanced Rookie circuit, then had no difficulties handling two Class A levels in their first full season as 18-year-olds. Guerrero ascended to the No. 1 overall spot on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list in mid-2018 and maintained it at the outset of 2019; Franco took over in mid-2019 after Guerrero graduated to the Majors and holds onto the No. 1 ranking on our new Top 100.
A year ago, we examined whether Guerrero was the best prospect ever and while that was a bit of a stretch, we came to the conclusion that it was difficult to find anyone who offered more offensive promise at such a young age. Franco may be a better prospect than Guerrero. They offer comparable upside at the plate, but he has posted better numbers at the same stage and is a switch-hitter while Guerrero bats strictly right-handed, and Franco offers much more speed and defensive ability.
While Franco vs. Guerrero can be debated, there's no question that Franco has the best hit tool on our latest Top 100. Below, we break down all of the best individual tools among baseball's best prospects.
Best hitter: Wander Franco, SS, Rays (80) -- ETA: 2021
Franco combines electric bat speed, uncanny hand-eye coordination and an advanced approach, and he does so from both sides of the plate. The youngest regular in the low Class A Midwest and high Class A Florida State leagues last year at age 18, he batted .327/.398/.487 with more extra-base hits (43) and walks (56) than strikeouts (35) and ranked second in the Minors with a whiff rate of just 7 percent.
Also in the running: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners; Gavin Lux, SS/2B, Dodgers; Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox
Best power: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox (65) -- ETA: 2020
After going homerless in 2018, in large part because of a thumb injury that limited him to 50 games, Robert broke out for a 30-30 season and led the Minors with 314 total bases in 2019, recording the first 30-30-300 line since Jose Cardenal in 1961. He's strong, possesses some of the best bat speed in baseball and the loft in his right-handed stroke produces majestic blasts to all fields.
Also in the running: Jo Adell, OF, Angels; Nolan Gorman, 3B, Cardinals; Marco Luciano, SS, Giants
Fastest runner: C.J. Abrams, SS, Padres (80) -- ETA: 2022
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, Abrams put his top-of-the-line speed to good use in his pro debut. He used his quickness to beat out hits (he batted .393), steal bases (15 in 34 games) and cover plenty of ground at shortstop.
Also in the running: Vidal Brujan, 2B/SS, Rays; Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamondbacks; Xavier Edwards, 2B/SS, Rays
Strongest arm: Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates (70) -- ETA: 2021
One of three repeaters from our 2019 Top 100 superlatives list, Cruz has an absolute cannon that's an asset in his quest to become the first 6-foot-6 shortstop in big league history. While he's surprisingly rangy for his size, he may be destined for right field, where his arm and power potential fit the profile nicely.
Also in the running: Shea Langeliers, C, Braves; Sean Murphy, C, Athletics; Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
Best defender: Cristian Pache, OF, Braves (70) -- ETA: 2020
Another repeater, Pache has plus-plus speed and arm strength that have made him the consensus best defensive player at any position in the Minors for the last two years. He chases down fly balls from gap to gap, has one of the best arms of any center fielder in the game and will push Ronald Acuña Jr. to a corner as soon as he arrives in Atlanta.
Also in the running: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates; Sean Murphy, C, Athletics; Evan White, 1B, Mariners
Best fastball: Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays (80) -- ETA: 2020
Pearson famously hit 104 mph with his fastball during the Arizona Fall League's 2018 Fall Stars Game (and also surrendered a homer to Pete Alonso on a 103-mph heater in the same contest). He usually ranges from 98-101 mph and maintains his velocity as a starter, generating it easily with an athletic delivery that he repeats, allowing him to command his fastball as well.
Also in the running: Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds; Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox; Brailyn Marquez, LHP, Cubs
Best curveball: Deivi Garcia, RHP, Yankees (65) -- ETA: 2020
Garcia achieves so much spin and depth on his curveball that it's not only difficult for hitters to square up, but also for him to locate in the strike zone at times. He spent most of 2019 in Double-A and Triple-A at age 20, and his strikeout rate (13.3 per nine innings) would have ranked second in the Minors had he not fallen just shy of officially qualifying.
Also in the running: Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Cardinals; Matt Manning, RHP, Tigers; Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
Best slider: A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics (65) -- ETA: 2020
Slowed by Tommy John surgery in 2018, Puk returned last year with his trademark slider and relied heavily on it after the A's called him up in August for bullpen help. His slider averaged 90 mph in the big leagues and has such vicious lateral break that it eats up left-handers and right-handers alike.
Also in the running: Shane Baz, RHP, Rays; Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox; Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays
Best changeup: Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics (65) -- ETA: 2020
Another Oakland southpaw who has bounced back from elbow reconstruction, Luzardo has full trust in a mid-80s changeup that fades and sinks and plays perfectly off his well above-average fastball. In his first taste of the Majors, his changeup helped him hold right-handers to a 5-for-35 (.143) line with 13 strikeouts, including a dominant three-inning stint in the American League Wild Card Game.
Also in the running: Spencer Howard, RHP, Phillies; Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Marlins; Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros
Best specialty pitch: Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers (70, splitter) -- ETA: 2020
Some scouts say that they've never seen a pitcher command a split-finger fastball better than Mize does. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft and the third repeater on this list, he has a devastating mid-80s splitter that dives at the plate, and hitters can't just lay off of it because he lands it for strikes.
Also in the running: Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays (screwball); Brendan McKay, LHP/DH, Rays (cutter); Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers (cutter)
Best control: Brendan McKay, LHP, Rays (60) -- ETA: 2020
The best two-way prospect in baseball, McKay has had more professional success as a pitcher than as a hitter, due in part to his ability to locate and sequence his four-pitch arsenal. He posted a 6.1 K/BB ratio with a 1.9 walk rate per nine innings as he raced through the Minors, then had 56 strikeouts versus just 16 walks in 49 big league innings last summer.
Also in the running: MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres; George Kirby, RHP, Mariners; Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.