Best tools among the Top 100 Prospects list
Blue Jays' Guerrero Jr. first to rank as best hitter and power hitter
We're running out of ways to say Blue Jays third-base prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is special, not that anyone really needs us to explain that. By leading the Minors in hitting (.381), slugging (.636) and OPS (1.120) while reaching Triple-A at age 19, he made that case all by himself.
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But we'll try again as we break down the best individual tools on MLB Pipeline's just-released 2019 Top 100 Prospects list -- where Guerrero ranks No. 1. Last year, we detailed how he became the first prospect we ever gave the maximum grade on the 20-80 scouting scale for his hitting ability.
This year, Guerrero again earns an 80, which should come as no surprise. While that's not new, this is: He's the first player ever to rank as both the best hitter and the best power hitter on the same Top 100 since we started identifying superlatives in 2014.
Additionally, the sum of Guerrero's hitting and power (70) sets a new MLB Pipeline standard at 150, eclipsing his 145 total from 2018. Only five other players have managed even a 135: the late Oscar Taveras in 2014; Kristopher Bryant, Carlos Correa and Miguel Sano in 2015; and White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez this year.
With Guerrero expected to graduate to the big leagues this season, it may be a long time before we see another 80 hitter or a 150 combo of hit plus power tools on the Top 100 Prospects list. But he's not the only guy to claim multiple superlatives in this year's crop. Padres right-hander Chris Paddack possesses the best changeup as well as the best control.
Here are the best individual tools on this year's Top 100:
Best hitter: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays (80) - ETA: 2019
Guerrero makes it look so easy at the plate, booming balls all over the field with his combination of hand-eye coordination, bat speed, pitch recognition and plate discipline. He's a career .331/.414/.529 hitter with 146 walks and 135 strikeouts in three years as a pro. For sake of comparison, his Hall of Fame father batted .343/.403/.581 with 95 walks and 115 whiffs in his first three pro seasons before reaching the Majors -- though Vlad Sr. was two years older than his son at the same stage. (ETA: 2019)
Also in the running: Wander Franco, SS, Rays; Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers, Luis Urias, INF, Padres.
Best power: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays (70)
Guerrero's power is still developing but already impressive, as he boosted his slugging percentage from .472 in his first two years in pro ball to .636 as a teenager in the upper Minors in 2018. He already shows a propensity to crush all types of pitches to all fields, and his hitting ability should allow him to get the most out of his raw power, which could rate an 80 as well.
Also in the running: Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets; Nolan Gorman, 3B, Cardinals; Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox.
• Infographic: Tool grades for all 100
Fastest runner: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals (75) - ETA: 2019
Robles has the best all-around tools on the Top 100, a package that includes plus hitting ability to go with plus-plus defense and arm strength and nearly top-of-the-scale speed. During his time with the Nationals last year, he had a top sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second according to Statcast™, not too far behind big league leader Byron Buxton (30.5 feet/second).
Also in the running: Royce Lewis, SS, Twins; Cristian Pache, OF, Braves; Luis Robert, OF, White Sox.
Strongest arm: O'Neil Cruz, SS, Pirates (70) - ETA: 2021
Cruz seeks to become the first 6-foot-6 shortstop in big league history, as he's a surprisingly rangy defender for someone with his size and can make all the throws with a cannon arm. He also has raw power to match and profiles extremely well in right field or at third base, where he's more likely to wind up.
Also in the running: Francisco Mejia, C/OF, Padres; Sean Murphy, C, Athletics; Cristian Pache, OF, Braves; Victor Robles, OF, Nationals; Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers.
Best defender: Cristian Pache, OF, Braves (70) - ETA: 2020
While Robles is more polished, Pache may have better all-around raw tools. The consensus best defensive center fielder in the Minors, he also has well above-average arm strength and speed that would allow him to fit anywhere in the outfield. He's still figuring things out at the plate and on the bases, but he has a chance to become a plus hitter with average power.
Also in the running: Victor Victor Mesa, OF, Marlins; Sean Murphy, C, Athletics; Victor Robles, OF, Nationals.
Best fastball: Hunter Greene, RHP, Reds (80) - ETA: 2021
There may never have been a pitcher who generates triple-digit fastballs as effortlessly as Greene, who has a lightning-fast arm and a very athletic delivery. He worked at 100-103 mph in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game last July and sat in the upper 90s throughout his first full pro season, during which he struck out 89 in 68 1/3 low Class A innings.
Also in the running: Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox; Nate Pearson, RHP, Blue Jays; Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals; Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Cardinals.
Best curveball: Dylan Cease, RHP, White Sox (65) - ETA: 2019
Cease has a hammer curveball with depth and power, and his mid-90s fastball is just as devastating. That combination helped him win recognition as MLB Pipeline's 2018 Pitcher of the Year after he posted a 2.40 ERA while ranking fifth in the Minors in opponent average (.189) and eighth in strikeout rate (11.6 per nine innings).
Also in the running: Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Rays; Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals; Touki Toussaint, RHP, Braves.
Best slider: J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, Astros (65) - ETA: 2020
Many scouts considered Bukauskas' fastball and slider the best 1-2 combo of pitches in the 2017 Draft. Though he can hit 98 mph with his heater, his slider is even better, arriving in the mid-80s with late, sharp bite. Despite battling a back injury, he fanned 71 in 59 innings last season.
Also in the running: Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox; A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics; Justus Sheffield, LHP, Mariners.
Best changeup: Chris Paddack, RHP, Padres (70) - ETA: 2019
Paddack works in the low 90s with his fastball and has a below-average curveball, yet he thrives because he possesses a dastardly changeup that tumbles at the plate after he sells it with near-perfect arm speed. After missing 2017 following Tommy John surgery, he returned last year and posted a 2.10 ERA with a 0.82 WHIP that would have led the Minors if he had enough innings to qualify.
Also in the running: Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays; Josh James, RHP, Astros; Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics; Forrest Whitley, RHP, Astros.
Best specialty pitch: Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers (splitter, 70) - ETA: 2020
The No. 1 overall pick last June, Mize had the nastiest pitch in the 2018 Draft class with a mid-80s splitter that dives at the plate and serves as his changeup. Hitters also have to guard against his mid-90s fastball and plus slider, so his splitter can make them look absolutely silly.
Also in the running: Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays (screwball); Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers (cutter); Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Rays (cutter).
Best control: Chris Paddack, RHP, Padres (65)
All of Paddack's pitches play up because he locates them so well. His 120/8 K/BB ratio and 0.8 walks per nine innings also would have topped the Minors if he had qualified, and his career marks as a pro are 230/20 and 1.0.
Also in the running: Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Rays; Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers, Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Phillies; Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves.