Our annual look at the best tools on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list serves as a preview of coming attractions to the big leagues. In the last five years alone, we've spotlighted Corey Seager's bat, Cody Bellinger's power (as well as that of Joey Gallo and Luis Robert), Byron Buxton's defense and Josh Hader's slider, among other jaw-dropping attributes.
We try to not go crazy with our evaluations, but our new 2021 Top 100 features so much talent that we handed out top-of-the-scale 80 grades in four different categories: Rays shortstop Wander Franco's hitting ability, Padres shortstop CJ Abrams' speed, Braves outfielder Cristian Pache's defense and Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson's fastball.
Below, we break down the best individual tools among the game's best prospects. The leader in each category is projected on the scouting 20-80 spectrum, where 50 represents big league average.
Best Hitter: Wander Franco, SS, Rays (80)
When we last saw Franco on the diamond in 2019, he hit .327/.398/.487 with a minuscule 7 percent strikeout rate between two Class A stops -- at age 18. Scouts like the switch-hitter's natural right-handed swing a little more than his lefty stroke, but he's dangerous from both sides. His super-fast hands, feel for the barrel and mastery of the strike zone give him bat-to-ball skills so good that the word "elite" may not do them justice.
Also in the running: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners; Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox; Austin Martin, SS/OF, Blue Jays.
Best Power: Spencer Torkelson, 3B/1B, Tigers (70)
Many evaluators consider Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick last June, the best all-around offensive prospect to come out of the Draft in two decades. His bat speed, strength and the loft in his right-handed stroke create at least plus-plus raw power, and his bat control and patient approach assure that he makes the most of it. He erased Barry Bonds' Arizona State freshman record with 25 homers in 2018, topped the Pac-12 Conference for the second straight season with 23 in 2019 and went deep six times in 17 games last spring.
Also in the running: Marco Luciano, SS, Giants; Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners; Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles.
Fastest Runner: CJ Abrams, SS, Padres (80)
Abrams not only has the game-changing quickness to make an impact on both sides of the ball, but he's also a more well-rounded player than your typical speedster. He uses his wheels to get on base and create havoc there, hitting .393 with 15 steals in his 34-game pro debut in 2019, and he covers plenty of ground at shortstop. He also could develop 20-homer power and has a solid arm to go with his range, enabling him to play almost anywhere on the diamond.
Also in the running: Vidal Brujan, 2B/SS, Rays; Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs; Xavier Edwards, 2B/SS, Rays.
Best Arm: Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates (70)
Cruz plays shortstop much better than you'd expect someone 6-foot-7 could, but it's his arm that really stands out on defense. Some evaluators give it an 80 grade and it will play nicely in right field should his size dictate a position change. If that happens, he'll fit nicely in the Pirates' tradition of right-field arms that includes Roberto Clemente and Dave Parker.
Also in the running: Bobby Dalbec, 3B/1B, Red Sox; Shea Langeliers, C, Braves; Cristian Pache, OF, Braves.
Best Defensive Player: Cristian Pache, OF, Braves (80)
Pache has been in the discussion as the best defensive prospect in the Minors since 2017, when he earned the first of four straight mentions on our All-Defense team. His plus-plus speed and outstanding instincts give him extraordinary range in center field, where his plus-plus arm is stronger than most at his position. He could make a run at Andruw Jones' Braves record of 10 Gold Gloves.
Also in the running: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates; Shea Langeliers, C, Braves; Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles.
Best Fastball: Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays (80)
Pearson averaged 96.3 mph with his fastball during his big league debut last summer -- and he wasn't at his best while bothered by a right flexor strain. His heater usually ranged from 96-100 mph in the Minors, and he reached 104 mph during the Arizona Fall League's 2018 Fall Stars Game in 2018. Beside his velocity, he also creates explosive life up in the strike zone and commands his fastball well.
Also in the running: Garrett Crochet, LHP, White Sox; Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds; Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox; Brailyn Marquez, LHP, Cubs.
Best Curveball: Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Cardinals (60)
Liberatore's feel for pitching made him the top prep mound prospect in the 2018 Draft, and a big part of his appeal was his feel for spin that continues to impress. He generates quality depth on his upper-70s curveball, showing the ability to land it for strikes or entice hitters to chase it out of the zone. He also has the moxie to throw his bender in any count.
Also in the running: Matt Allan, RHP, Mets; Reid Detmers, LHP, Angels; Matt Manning, RHP, Tigers.
Best Slider: Max Meyer, RHP, Marlins (70)
Meyer's slider was the best pitch in the 2020 Draft, in which he went third overall. He can run it into the low 90s and also features the ability to add or subtract depth. His slider and mid-90s fastball could make him a closer in a hurry, though he also has feel for a changeup and the Marlins envision him as a frontline starter.
Also in the running: Shane Baz, RHP, Rays; Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox; Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays.
Best Changeup: Sixto Sánchez, RHP, Marlins (65)
Though Sánchez has a two-seam fastball that sits at 95-97 mph and a four-seamer that parks at 97-99, and he also flashes a plus curveball and cutter, his most effective pitch during his strong big league debut was his changeup. It arrives in the upper 80s before dive-bombing at the plate. Major Leaguers went 8-for-54 (.148, all singles) with 18 strikeouts against his changeup.
Also in the running: Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves; Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles; Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros.
Best Specialty Pitch: Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers (70/splitter)
Scouts not only considered Mize's split-finger fastball the best pitch in the 2018 Draft, where he went No. 1 overall, but multiple evaluators say they've never seen anyone command the pitch better. He throws it in the mid-80s with plenty of depth and run, and it's unhittable when it's on. He struggled more than expected in his big league debut last summer, in part because his splitter lacked its usual consistency.
Also in the running: Brendan McKay, LHP, Rays (cutter); Sixto Sánchez, RHP, Marlins (cutter); Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros (cutter).
Best Control: George Kirby, RHP, Mariners (65)
In 2019, Kirby led NCAA Division I in strikeout/walk ratio (17.8) and walk rate (0.6 per nine innings) at Elon while pitching his way into the first round of the Draft. In his pro debut, he whiffed 25 batters without a single free pass in 23 innings. He has quality stuff, too, with four pitches with the chance to be solid or better, including a fastball that's still gaining velocity and can reach 98 mph.
Also in the running: Brendan McKay, LHP, Rays; Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers; Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Marlins.