A cut above: Best tools of Top 100 Prospects list
Buxton's speed, Bryant's power, Giolito's fastball and curve the best of the best
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant slammed 43 home runs to lead the Minor Leagues, and he reached Triple-A in his first full professional season. Twins outfielder Byron Buxton didn't even play 43 games last season while battling injuries to both wrists and a concussion.
So why did Buxton beat out Bryant for the No. 1 spot on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list? Because while performance matters, so do tools. And no prospect has better all-around tools than Buxton.
Buxton projects to hit 20 or more homers annually in his prime -- and his plus power is his worst attribute. He has legitimate 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, making him the fastest runner in the Top 100. He might also be the best pure hitter, and the best defensive outfielder with the strongest outfield arm on the list, with all three tools grading as well above average.
We break down the best individual tools in the Top 100 below. Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo was the only position player besides Buxton to get recognition in more than one category, standing out with his raw power and arm strength. Nationals right-hander Lucas Giolito claimed the best fastball and the best curveball -- it's no coincidence that he's the highest-ranked pitcher on the list -- while Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias and Phillies righty Aaron Nola also got multiple mentions.
Best hitter: Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
Correa went No. 1 overall in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft -- one pick ahead of Buxton -- first and foremost for his power potential. However, he has stood out more as a hitter than a slugger thus far in his pro career, batting .320 as the second-youngest regular (age-18) in the low Class A Midwest League in '13, and .325 as the youngest (age-19) in the Class A Advanced California League last year. He focuses on making consistent hard contact rather than worrying about home runs, using a short stroke and the entire field while displaying mature command of the strike zone.
Also in the running: Buxton; Jesse Winker, OF, Reds; Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
Best power: Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Fellow Las Vegas native Gallo has more raw power than any prospect, but usable power is what matters most, and Bryant beats him in that regard. With his size, strength, bat speed and loft, Bryant doesn't have to swing for the fences. His opposite-field power is off the charts, and he has the patience to wait out pitchers until he gets an offering he can drive. Bryant topped the Minors in virtually every power category in 2014 -- homers, extra-base hits (78), total bases (325) and slugging (.661) -- and he also ranked eighth with 86 walks.
Also in the running: Gallo; Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins; Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs
Fastest runner: Buxton, OF, Twins
Buxton can get from the right side of the plate to first base in 3.9 seconds, which is Billy Hamilton territory. He has yet to approach his basestealing potential (72 steals at a 75 percent success rate in 204 pro games) because he's still refining his reads and jumps. Buxton's instincts are more developed and his speed plays better in center field, where he covers both gaps with aplomb and makes difficult plays look easy.
Also in the running: Trea Turner, SS, Padres; Jose Peraza, 2B, Braves; Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
Strongest arm: Justin O'Conner, C, Rays
Some scouts liked O'Conner most as a right-handed pitcher with a 93-95 mph fastball until he moved behind the plate as a high school senior and wowed them with his combination of power (he tied the Indiana career record with 51 homers) and arm strength. It has taken a while for O'Conner's bat to come around, but he has shut down running games on a consistent basis with his 1.8-second pop times. He led the Class A Advanced Florida State League by throwing out 55 percent of basestealers last year, then did the same in the Arizona Fall League at 50 percent.
Also in the running: Jorge Alfaro, C, Rangers; Gallo; Buxton
Best defender: Austin Hedges, C, Padres
Hedges' prowess behind the plate earned him a $3 million bonus as a second-round pick in 2011. The best defensive catcher to come out of high school in years, he does it all. His receiving earns 70 grades, and his throwing merits 65s, with his arm strength playing up thanks to his fast release and uncanny accuracy. Still just 22, he's also extremely advanced as a game-caller. Managers have rated him his league's best defensive catcher in each of his three full pro seasons.
Also in the running: Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians; Buxton; Michael Taylor, OF, Nationals
Best fastball: Giolito, RHP, Nationals
Giolito might have become the first high school right-hander drafted No. 1 overall if he hadn't hurt his elbow as a senior in 2012 -- an injury that required Tommy John surgery. When he returned to the mound the following year, his first three pitches were clocked at 100 mph. He doesn't light up radar guns as consistently as the Braves' Mike Foltynewicz or the Marlins' Tyler Kolek, but Giolito still has a better fastball package than either. He pitches at 93-96 mph like he's playing a casual game of catch, he uses his 6-foot-6 frame to deliver his fastball on a tough downhill plane, and he can run it to either side of the plate.
Also in the running: Foltynewicz, RHP, Braves; Kolek, RHP, Marlins; Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
Best curveball: Giolito, RHP, Nationals
Despite Giolito's injury, the Nationals still drafted him 16th overall and paid him $2.925 million -- and it wasn't just for his fastball. Hitters can't try to sit on Giolito's heater because his curveball can be nearly as devastating. He throws it with tremendous power, reaching the mid-80s at times, and a true 12-to-6 break. Add in his feel for a sinking changeup that could become a plus pitch, and he has the best repertoire of any Minor Leaguer.
Also in the running: Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds; Urias, LHP, Dodgers; Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays
Best slider: Carlos Rodon, LHP, White Sox
Rodon's slider was the best pitch in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, and it will be one of the best in the Major Leagues when he arrives in the very near future. It's a true wipeout breaking ball that sits in the mid-80s, can reach 90 mph and has two-plane break. It not only destroys left-handed hitters, but it also is quite effective against right-handers as well. Rodon threw his slider too much last spring at North Carolina State, costing him some fastball velocity and a bit of Draft stock, as he went No. 3 overall after entering the year as the consensus No. 1 talent. Once he struck a better balance between his top two pitches in pro ball, his fastball bounced back to 92-97 mph.
Also in the running: Mark Appel, RHP, Astros; Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins; Jake Thompson, RHP, Rangers
Best changeup: Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox
Owens has averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings in three pro seasons despite working mostly with an 88-92 mph fastball. That's a tribute to the deception he creates with his delivery as well as with his changeup. It's a true out pitch that he sells by delivering it with his normal arm speed, only to have it arrive in the upper 70s and fade at the plate. His changeup helps him negate the platoon advantage, as right-handers batted just .208 against him last season and .167 in 2013.
Also in the running: Urias; Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies; Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Red Sox
Best control: Nola, RHP, Phillies
The most polished pitcher available in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, Nola advanced to Double-A in his pro debut and could reach Philadelphia in his first full season. He issued just 1.4 walks per nine innings in three years at Louisiana State, becoming the first repeat winner of the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Award, and he averaged just 1.6 per nine against Minor League hitters. Nola's control and command is even more impressive considering he throws from a low three-quarters arm slot that imparts plenty of life on his pitches. He's not overpowering, but he gets swings and misses on pitches in the strike zone
Also in the running: Andrew Heaney, LHP, Angels; Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets; Luis Severino, RHP, Yankees.