Which prospects have the best tools? We asked MLB execs

Detroit Tigers

In our 2023 MLB Pipeline Poll, we’ve seen what team executives across the front office spectrum think about this season’s Rookie of the Year candidates and who they think are the top prospects. Let’s drill down one more level and take a look at the specific tools of the game’s future stars.

Evaluations of players look at a host of tools for hitters and pitchers — hit, power, speed, arm and defense on the position player side; fastball, curve, slider, changeup (and any other pitch) along with control/command for pitchers. Part 3 of our survey asked executives to weigh in on a number of them.

Which prospect has the best hit tool?

29% — Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs
23% — Gunnar Henderson, SS/3B, Orioles
9% — Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers
6% — Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers
6% — Jackson Holliday, SS, Orioles
6% — Termarr Johnson, 2B/SS, Pirates
Also received votes: Jacob Berry, 3B/OF, Marlins; Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs; Edouard Julien, 2B, Twins; Marcelo Mayer, SS, Red Sox; Jackson Merrill, SS, Padres; Miguel Vargas, 3B/OF, Dodgers; Jordan Walker, OF, Cardinals

The executives polled picked Henderson over Carroll in terms of his overall prospect status. But when it comes to just a pure feel to hit? It was Carroll who came out on top after a Minor League season that saw him hit .307/.425/.611 between Double-A and Triple-A. Frelick hit .331 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts in his first full season, a big reason why he finished third in the polling.

Which prospect has the most usable power?

43% — Jordan Walker, OF, Cardinals
11% — Francisco Álvarez, C, Mets
9% — James Wood, OF, Nationals
6% — Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B, Reds
6% — Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, Orioles
6% — Tyler Soderstrom, 1B/C, A’s
Also received votes: Brett Baty, 3B, Mets; Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox; Marco Luciano, SS, Giants; Matt Mervis, 1B, Cubs; George Valera, OF, Guardians; Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees; Matt Wallner, OF, Twins

This is another question that I would have thought might have gone differently, with Álvarez and his 51 Minor League homers over the last two seasons (not to mention his career .526 slugging percentage in the Minors) getting more support. Baked into the term “usable power” is the belief that a player will consistently tap into their raw pop to put up numbers in the big leagues, and it turns out more execs believe Walker’s feel to hit will mean more usable power.

Which prospect has the most speed?

29% — Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs
9% — David Hamilton, OF, Red Sox
9% — Druw Jones, OF, D-backs
6% — Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers
6% — Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs
6% — Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B, Reds
6% — Jordan Lawlar, SS, D-backs
Also received votes: Jordyn Adams, OF, Angels; James Beard, OF, White Sox; Vaun Brown, OF, Giants; Justin Crawford, OF, Phillies; Omar De Los Santos, OF, Mets; Duke Ellis, OF, White Sox; Greg Jones, SS, Rays; Garrett Mitchell, OF, Brewers; Esteury Ruiz, OF, A’s; Tyler Tolbert, SS/OF, Royals; Bubba Thompson, OF, Rangers

It’s not often a top overall prospect is thought to have the most speed as well as his other top-flight tools, with the Minor Leagues typically full of guys who can really, really run but don’t do as many things as well as Carroll does. There are some on this list who might be able to beat Carroll in a race (though his 70-grade wheels are close to top of the scale), but perhaps “usable speed” was inferred here, and he’ll use it well on both sides of the ball.

Which prospect has the best fastball?

33% — Daniel Espino, RHP, Guardians
15% — Eury Pérez, RHP, Marlins
9% — Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers
9% — Mason Miller, RHP, A’s
9% — Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles
6% — Andrew Painter, RHP, Phillies
Also received votes: Gordon Graceffo, RHP, Cardinals; Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants; Griff McGarry, RHP, Phillies; Jacob Misiorowski, RHP, Brewers; Abner Uribe, RHP, Brewers; Cole Waites, RHP, Giants

Best doesn’t mean hardest, though everyone on this list throws plenty hard enough. When healthy, Espino has a fastball that’s truly electric, with plenty of velo (triple digits) and impressive running action. He’s also improved tremendously in another area that sets some of the others on this list apart: an ability to command the pitch within the zone.

Which prospect has the best secondary pitch?

17% — Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles (Changeup)
11% — Hunter Brown, RHP, Astros (Slider)
11% — Max Meyer, RHP, Marlins (Slider)
11% — Bobby Miller, RHP, Dodgers (Slider)
6% — Andrew Painter, RHP, Phillies (Curveball)
6% — Daniel Espino, RHP, Guardians (Slider)
6% — DL Hall, LHP, Orioles (Slider)
6% — Jackson Jobe, RHP, Tigers (Slider)
6% — Eury Pérez, RHP, Marlins (Changeup)
Also received votes: Carlos Duran, RHP, Dodgers (SL); Gordon Graceffo, RHP, Cardinals (SL); Nick Frasso, RHP, Dodgers (SL); Kyle Harrison, LHP, Giants (SL); Dylan Lesko, RHP, Padres (CH); Chase Silseth, RHP, Angels (SPL); Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Blue Jays (CH)

As you can see, EVERYONE throws a slider these days, and a lot of them are downright nasty. That said, the one secondary pitch that got the most votes was Rodriguez’s changeup, a ridiculous offspeed offering that led to a 45-percent miss rate and got a ton of weak ground balls when someone managed to make contact. Someday, Lesko’s changeup might rival Rodriguez’s. It’s so highly thought of that the 2022 draftee got a vote even though he’s yet to throw a pro pitch and won’t for a while following Tommy John surgery last spring.

Which prospect has the best pitchability?

29% — Andrew Painter, RHP, Phillies
19% — Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles
10% — Gordon Graceffo, RHP, Cardinals
6% — Eury Pérez, RHP, Marlins
6% — Brandon Pfaadt, LHP, D-backs
Also received votes: Mick Abel, RHP, Phillies; Tanner Bibee, RHP, Guardians; Taj Bradley, RHP, Rays; Luis Devers, RHP, Cubs; Wilmer Flores, RHP, Tigers; Landon Marceaux, RHP, Angels; Jared Shuster, LHP, Braves; Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, Blue Jays; Owen White, RHP, Rangers

Pitchability is most often equated with command, but it also encompasses an overall feel for pitching, how to set up hitters, what stuff to use when, and what stuff not to use if it’s not working that day. A lot of the time, thoughts turn to soft-tossing pitchers who pitch above their natural stuff because of their savvy on the mound, and there are some who got votes who fit that description. But when you have the combination of premium stuff and pitchability? Well, there’s a reason why Painter and Rodriguez are now generally considered to be the best overall pitching prospects in the game.

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