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There was a time it was much more difficult to complete this entire list, let alone make the picks. But not only are there multiple worthy and standout candidates for each tool, there are a handful of elite-level grades that still make the choices easy.
Most in the industry have either already made identical picks for much of what you will see below, or would agree with nearly all of them.
Best Hitter: Julio Rodriguez
Runer-Up: Gabriel Gonzalez
It’s a 60-grade hit tool for Franchise, his most important tool in terms of eliminating performance risk in the big leagues. Gonzalez’s track record is shallow, but he doesn’t swing and miss much, shows pitch recognition skills uncommon of 17-year-old hitters, and makes consistent hard contact.
Best Power: Rodriguez
Runner-Up: Noelvi Marte
I have Rodriguez with 70 raw and 60 game power, and he just turned 21 years of age. Marte isn’t far behind, but there is a discernible, albeit small difference.
Best Zone Judgement: Milkar Perez
Perez will show a lot of good, close takes, including with two strikes, explaining his near-20% walk rate a year ago.
Fastest Runner: Luis Bolivar
Runner-Up: Jonatan Clase
Clase has added strength and gained quite a bit of good weight, but remains a blazing 65-or-better-grade runner with an explosive first step. Bolivar’s takeover here could be short-lived, since he’s taller with a bigger frame and likely to add his own weight and strength.
Best Athlete: Harry Ford
Ford is as athletically gifted as any player the system has had since Alex Rodriguez, with plus strength, speed, and agility, which is why there are so many potential defensive outcomes for the first-round pick, including center field and second base. Clase isn’t far behind in raw athleticism, and has a pure speed advantage, but from a baseball standpoint Ford is a unicorn here.
Best Command: George Kirby
Runner-Up: Brandon Williamson
Kirby has issued a walk to 4.1% of the batters he’s faced in pro ball, and despite his two-tick increase in velocity on the fastball that number was just 5.5% a year ago. Kirby also does a good job staying on the edges and hitting spots. Williamson is a consistent performer, walking 8.1% of his total batters faced as a professional. He’s not as adept at locating as Kirby, but he’s been average or better in this area, and a step ahead of the rest of the candidates, most of whom are younger and further away from the majors.
Best Fastball: Kirby
Runner-Up: Matt Brash
To be honest, I could go either way here; Neither has the data on their heaters Logan Gilbert has, but both get some whiffs by pitching effectively up in the zone. Kirby’s fastball is more projectable, so he gets the nod.
Best Slider: Brash
Runner-Up: Emerson Hancock
There’s a lot of curveball action on Brash’s slider, sometimes so much so I wasn’t sure if he was throwing two different breaking balls or if it was just organic variance. But whatever we call it, it’s disgusting, and Brash was very consistent with it in 2021. Hancock’s slider projects as plus, but Brash’s is already there, and could reach 70-grade status. I’ve split the difference ad given it a 65. Sam Carlson‘s slider projects pretty high, too, and we saw some absolutely filthy ones a year ago.
Best Curveball: Williamson
Runner-Up: Adam Macko
Williamson’s curveball is a low-80s breaker with late downward action and deception with the arms and plane. Macko’s two breaking balls bleed together a bit, but both have promise, and the curveball has depth and two-plane snap.
Best Changeup: Devin Sweet
Sweet’s change is, well, sweet. It has plus fade away from left-handed batters, good, consistent sink, and his arm speed generates deception. It’s been a true swing-and-miss pitch for him in the minors, and we may get to see it in the majors in 2022. I believe Kirby’s changeup will end up at least average, with a real chance to be better than that, all the way to plus. He throws it with conviction, it flashes the kind of sink and deception the better changeups display in the majors.
Best Defensive Infielder: Edwin Arroyo
Runner-Up: Juan Querecuto
The club doesn’t have a lot of regular shortstops, but Arroyo has the best chance to be above-average to plus over the long haul. Querecuto is very sound, despite belonging at second base, and needs to stay healthy and hit for the glove to matter. He hasn’t done either.
Best Defensive Outfielder: Luis Bolivar
Runner-Up: George Feliz
Bolivar’s defense is no secret, as it was among the more discussed topics early in the signing period before the Mariners inked the centerfielder. The first step is quick, the routes are instinctual, and his arm plays, allowing his pure speed to play a key role.
Best Defensive Catcher: Ford
Runners-Up: Matt Scheffler, Jake Anchia
I hear good things about Charlie Welch‘s potential as a Tom Lapkin clone, including average defense, but he hasn’t played enough to get a good read. Ford is a freak with all the raw tools to develop into J.T. Realmuto behind the dish.
Best Arm: Rodriguez
Julio’s hose is a 70-grade cannon, and he’s adding accuracy to it the past year or so. Perez throws seeds from third base, which is why it’s an easy arm fit for him to move to a corner outfield spot, if the hot corner doesn’t work out and he displays the athleticism to make such a transition.
The Most Valuable Tools in the System
1. Julio Rodriguez’s Hit
The way Rodriguez’s hit (60) and power (70) tools are intertwined so tightly is quite remarkable, but one needs the other to reach its potential.
2. George Kirby’s Command
Kirby’s command will allow everything he throws play up, and for perhaps quicker pitch development as arms try to make up for the lost 2020 season.
3. Julio Rodriguez’s Power
It’s 70 raw power and he’s already hitting searing doubles from line to line and into both gaps.
4. Harry Ford’s Defense
It’s mostly projection, but the sky is the limit here, and even if he gets halfway he’s a big-league backstop.
5. Harry Ford’s Athleticism
If he doesn’t hit a lot, but hits just enough, the fact Ford projects to catch is enormous, but if his bat takes off, he gets to the show a lot sooner because his athleticism allows for an easy transition on the field.
6. Noelvi Marte’s Power
It’s at least 60 raw, maybe 65, and he’s still maturing. This is why the Manny Machado comps aren’t crazy. At all.
7. Brandon Williamson’s Curveball
Williamson’s 60-grade breaker is a difference maker for him, and currently his best pitch — and his best option to mess with hitters’ timing.
8. George Kirby’s Changeup
Currently Kirby’s best secondary pitch, and it plays well off the fastball. His slider isn’t far behind, however, and may be the more important pitch for him in the long run.
9. Matt Brash’s Slider
It’s the best individual pitch (65+) in the system and might be second only to newcomer Robbie Ray‘s own slider in the whole organization. If I had more confidence he was a long-term starter, this would rank much higher, perhaps top 3.
10. George Kirby’s Fastball
It’s an easy 93-97, with 70 control and 60 command, and when he’s 96-100 it’s 60 and 55. Kirby dooesn’t currently possess the kind of fastball hop that helps generate huge value, but he throws it very hard and hits his spots, so it’s impossible to ignore here.
Jason A. Churchill
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