Best pure tools among MLB's top pitching prospects

February 5th, 2018

Three of the main reasons why Angels right-hander/outfielder Shohei Ohtani ranks No. 1 on MLB Pipeline's new Top 100 Prospects list are three of the best pitches anyone in the Majors or Minors possesses.
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Ohtani threw the hardest recorded pitch in Japanese history (102.5 mph in 2016) and regularly sits in the upper 90s with late life on his fastball. He also can dominate hitters with a diving splitter that peaks in the low 90s and a hard slider that reaches the high 80s.
On the 20-80 scouting scale, we've rated Ohtani's fastball as an 80 and his splitter and slider as 65s. Factor in his average (50) ability to throw strikes, and the sum of his fastball, best breaking ball, best third pitch that falls into neither category plus his control is 260 -- easily the best of any pitcher on the Top 100. In fact, since MLB Pipeline began grading tools five years ago, the only pitchers with a higher total are (2013 preseason and midseason) and (2013 preseason) at 270.
We realize, of course, that there's more to evaluating pitchers than simply adding up their three best offerings and control. This feature is intended to be more interesting than deeply analytical. At the same time, it's no coincidence that all six of the pitchers who total 240 or more rank among the first 26 prospects on our Top 100.
(Rays, No. 12), who tied fellow right-handers Yadier Alvarez (Dodgers) and Riley Pint (Rockies) for top honors a year ago at 240, has improved to 245 but has to settle for second place. Not only is Honeywell the foremost practitioner of the screwball (65) in the Minor Leagues, he's also in the running for the best changeup (60) and best control (60). With his 92-96 mph sinking fastball (60), he's the lone pitcher on the Top 100 with at least plus grades across the board.

Four more right-handers posted 240 totals: (White Sox, No. 10), (Dodgers, No. 13), Hunter Greene (Reds, No. 21) and Sixto Sanchez (Phillies, No. 26). Kopech and Greene join Ohtani as having the only 80-grade fastballs on the Top 100, with Greene getting our nod as having the best because he's the most athletic and throws with the least effort. Kopech's upper-80s slider (65) also features two-plane break and is one of the best in the Minors. Buehler's stuff jumped to another level after he came back from Tommy John surgery, and he now has a 95-100 mph fastball (70) and the best curveball (65) on the Top 100.

With Ohtani, Buehler, Honeywell and perhaps Kopech graduating to the big leagues in 2018, Sanchez could top this list a year from now. He already has impressive stuff: a 70 fastball that can either be a two-seamer with loads of sink or a four-seamer that reaches triple digits, backed up by a solid curveball (55) and changeup (55) that continue to get better and could be plus pitches down the road. And he knows how to use it, as evidenced by his mere 18 walks in 95 innings in Class A as an 18-year-old, which earned him a 60 for control.

The highest-scoring left-handers are MacKenzie Gore (Padres, No. 19) and Jesus Luzardo (Athletics, No. 60), who both check in at 235. Gore is another candidate for upward mobility, as he already owns a pair of dynamic pitches in a 92-95 mph fastball (65) that he can locate to both sides of the plate and a mid-70s curveball (60) with depth, and scouts believe his 55 changeup and control will improve to at least 60s in the near future.

Luzardo, who had Tommy John surgery in March 2016 and was part of the package the Nationals gave up for and last July, can reach 98 mph with a fastball (65) with natural sink, also gets a lot of movement on his changeup (60) and has advanced feel for the strike zone (60). He also demonstrates a feel for adding and subtracting with his curveball, which rates as average (50).