For a catcher, the “tools of ignorance” is an endearing term used to sum up the challenges of the position in a neat and tidy phrase. Over the past three seasons, scouting well over 100 games and a few hundred prospects has led me to develop my own “tools of magnificence” as a handful of players have displayed 80-grade tools which are now seared into my scouting conscious.
When scouting raw power, Mike Stanton is the benchmark for me to compare all others to. Opening Day 2011 brought Bryce Harper to Rome. During batting practice, I remember thinking, “what would Stanton do?” in an attempt to place Harper’s batting practice show into perspective. When scouting Stanton, he hit three routine pop ups (for mortal men) in Jacksonville which settled into the right fielders glove at the warning track. That combination of carry and opposite-field power on balls Stanton did not square up was all I needed to see. Even without a tape measure job, the 80 grade was an easy one to give and the fact Stanton’s power was on display in game action was icing on the cake, as too many prospects show it only in batting practice.
Bryce Harper had 80 power too, but scouting Stanton first establishes his light-tower power as my frame of reference. The longest home run I’ve ever seen in person was what had to be a 500+ foot blast off of a 97 MPH Maikel Cleto fastball by former Braves and current Yankees farmhand Cody Johnson. FanGraphs readers are unlikely to ever see that power at the big league level, though, as Johnson simply strikes out too much to ever project as a big leaguer.
In terms of arm strength, the 2010 version of Braves catching prospect Christian Bethancourt was simply awe inspiring. With 1.88 pop times between innings (2.0 MLB average) and even more zip in game action, Bethancourt’s arm strength was the best I’ve ever seen and this includes pitchers. In Savannah, I scouted Bethancourt as part of a Julio Teheran start and closely watched the two prospects loosen up in the outfield prior to the game. When the distance between them reached 90-feet or so, both prospects began to open it up a little. While Teheran had the slightest of arc on his throws, Bethancourt threw lasers, which left me thinking he’d be able to challenge triple digits on my radar gun off the mound.
In 2009, Anthony Gose blew me away with his overall athleticism and otherworldly range in centerfield. On the bases, he was picked off at first base and needed to work on his jumps, but the 80 speed was apparent even though I was unable to pull a home-to-first running time. To this day, the thought of Anthony Gose in the outfield reminds me of “Kelly” of “The Bad News Bears” catching everything from foul pole to foul pole. When discussing prospects and top flight athleticism, my insisting the true plus-plus athlete combines speed, fluidity of movement and explosion is said with Gose in mind. Should he continue to add polish, Gose may become one of the most exciting players in the game.
Before scouting Dodgers Rubby De La Rosa in person, a running joke with scouting contacts was that my radar gun must be broken because it had never registered a velocity above 96 MPH in a season and a half of lugging it around. I headed to Chattanooga knowing De La Rosa threw hard enough to surpass 96 MPH, but was not prepared for just how much harder he threw. Seeing a “seven” on the gun was impressive, but when he popped the mitt at “eight” and “nine” in succession, it became obvious De La Rosa’s fastball was in a different league than any I’d seen previously. (For those who are wondering, when a pitcher throws in the 90+ MPH range, scouts will drop the nine and refer to the pitch by its second digit.) And while I generally ignore stadium guns at all cost, seeing 101 MPH flash on the scoreboard was a first, and left onlookers buzzing in the stands.
And while De La Rosa lacked command in the upper registers, the one 98 MPH fastball he located belt high on the inner half is seared into my scouting mind as it bored down and in on a right handed hitter to devastating effect. It was the single most dominant pitch I’ve seen live, but I’d be remiss to not mention left-hander Danny Hultzen working full innings at 94-95 MPH at Georgia Tech last spring with enough deception for the velocity to appear on par with De La Rosa’s. For the record, Hultzen’s strikeout totals will surprise, as I’m confident his combination of velocity, deception and movement has been overlooked. I may be in the minority, but give me Hultzen’s fastball over Julio Teheran, Zack Wheeler, Jameson Taillon, Arodys Vizcaino or Jarrod Parker.
When a prospect writer discusses how rare the 80-grade tool truly is, it’s not an exaggeration. Over three seasons scouting prospects, I can still count the 80 grades on one hand. When watching prospects in person, it’s important to not let the potentially historic power of a Mike Stanton skew the grade of an Xander Bogaerts downward.. The young shortstop showed 70 power for me, but compared to Stanton, a slugger who’d receive bonus points if permitted, most any prospect pales in comparison.