Back in the '80s when I was a kid, I remember the terms "tools" coming into prominence when describing a player from a scouting perspective. As you probably know, there are 5 tools and a player who has all of them is rare indeed.
In case you are unfamiliar, those tools are:
Players like Andre Dawson and Dale Murphy became the stars of that era because they possessed all 5 tools. For a player to get 30 HRs and 30 SBs was one of the greatest achievements of that day. It was thought that such players could beat you in any number of ways and this is completely true -- you can use any of those 5 tools to beat your opponent on any given day.
When we look back at this past draft, we can see which players were labeled as toolsy: Nick Gordon, Bradley Zimmer, Trea Turner, and even Alex Jackson all have potential to be at least 4 tool players -- and all were highly rated.
But the nature of the game has changed since the advent of advanced metrics. Your arm and speed could certainly win you games, but getting on base and avoiding outs has a more direct, measurable impact on runs scored and by extension, wins and losses.
So while scouting has begun to keep up with the metrics movement, it still may lag behind in some ways. Maybe we have been looking at this all wrong.
I wonder if sometimes the 5 tools should be this:
- Ability to Control the Strike Zone
- Baseball-related athleticism
- Mental Makeup
Think about it.
You may have some questions here but it starts at the very top. When it comes to a position player, if you get those top 3 tools (Hit, Power, Ability to Control Strike Zone), then you have yourself a heck of an offensive player. In fact, it isn't uncommon that when you do get a player like that, you will hear scouts or execs say, "That bat will play anywhere" or "They will find a place for him to play".
This tool set doesn't directly include defense, which we know is important, but let's face it, how many players end up at the positions in which they were drafted? Perhaps what is more important at this stage is to possess the kind of skills need to play defense at more than one position. That can be incorporated into #4 and if combined with #5, perhaps you can teach an amateur to be a good defender, or at least an adequate one -- at some position -- over time.
Lastly, I think mental makeup is the glue that holds this all together. If you have a player with aptitude, the willingness to work hard, and the willingness to work with others, then you have a player who is more likely to make use of the tools he does have.
Now I don't want to say plus speed and plus arm strength aren't important, because they are, but are they really 20% of the game today? I almost think you have to look at these two skills as secondary -- as a bonus, if you will. Besides, if a player has baseball related athleticism, we assume that incorporates some ability to run and throw the baseball, even if it is just at an average (or at least adequate) level for the sport.
Now, let's think about the 3 players that the Cubs have drafted in the first round:
- Albert Almora
- Kris Bryant
- Kyle Schwarber
All have a plus hit tool, so we can assume that is paramount when the Cubs scout position players. Two of them have plus power tools while the third (Almora) has an average power tool. When it comes to controlling the strike zone, nobody doubts Bryant or Schwarber, but even Almora has shown the ability to work counts and swing at strikes, even if he doesn't walk much. And while none of the three are elite in terms of traditional athleticism, they all possess excellent baseball-related athleticism. Lastly, nobody questions the mental makeup of any of these players.
Let's take it a step further and examine this year's draft because the Cubs seemed to gravitate even further toward this template. Every player seems to possess at least 3 of these tools and nearly all of the top draft prospects picked have a good hit and/or power tool.
Round 1: As mentioned above, Kyle Scwharber checks all these boxes. He is a "5 tool" player under these guidelines. Here is what one scout said yesterday.
"Kyle has a chance to be a 60/60 type (hit/power), but let's say he is .280 and 25. It does not matter if he has star impact. He could be a decent bat with the other options around him. He is a better athlete than these so called experts say in public. Soft around the middle yes, but carries it well and moves okay for me."
And this MLB Video supports this, especially listen to what Jon Hart and Peter Gammons have to say.
Also check out Kevin's scouting report from yesterday.
Round 3: Mark Zagunis, C
- Hit: Zagunis shows a line drive approach suited to hit for average.
- Power: Zagunis seems to lack this tool though he did hit for average power the previous season and some think he can do that again as he develops.
- Ability to Control Strike Zone: 13% walk rate and more walks (32) than Ks (20), .426 OBP
- Baseball Athleticism: He is unusually athletic for a catcher and even possesses good speed as a bonus. Even though he isn't a good defender, he does possess the skills to become at least an average one.
- Mental Makeup: Like almost all players the Cubs draft, Zagunis is considered to have plus makeup.
As we get outside the top 10 rounds, it becomes a little more difficult to get this kind of well-rounded player, so scouts begin to look for players with one or two standout tools to go with the good to plus makeup. If you have one tool to build around and can at least get adequate to average performance in the rest of the categories, you have yourself a potential impact player.
Here are some of the more noteworthy picks that I think can become MLB prospects if they develop...
- Round 13: Kevonte Mitchell, OF: Mitchell is a tremendous athlete with a long lean frame and tremendous raw power. Per Nathan Rode of Prep Baseball: Very raw, power. Lean w/ tons of room. 6-4, 190. Super raw, but thunder in the bat, lean frame that aces the eye test. Very quick hands. As a bonus, he also has a tremendous throwing arm, able to hit 90 mph off the mound, and good speed for his size.
- Round 14: Chesny Young, 2B: Described to me as an underrated athlete whose primary tool is his ability to hit, great instincts as a baseball player, similar to Daniel Lockhart in many respects, but with better size. Shows some good plate discipline/ability to control strike zone.
- Round 22: Joey Martarano, 3B: Great athlete with tremendous raw power, was one of the better power hitters in the 2012 prep class but decided to concentrate on football at Boise St.
- Round 23: Isiah Gilliam, OF: Again, power is the ticket here and Gilliam shows some hit tool potential as well. Does not have the approach the Cubs like. He's still raw, but like all these players has the kind of makeup the Cubs look for to go out and improve. Not a burner by any means but Cubs feel he is athletic enough to move to the OF.
- Round 30: Michael Cantu, C: A former quarterback, he is more athletic than your average catcher with his best tool being raw power and a strong arm. Scouts rave about his mental makeup.
- Round 31: DJ Peters. OF: Big-time power potential and a good athlete for his size.
The prevailing "tools" here are players with athleticism, power (which has become an increasingly rare commodity in today's game), and good mental makeup, though here are also some prospects here with good hit tool potential as well, particularly toward the top half of the draft. Also at the top half we see more players who are able to control the strike zone, but as we go further down the draft and the talent is more unrefined, those players become increasingly scarce (if available at all), so the Cubs focused more on athleticism and raw power with the kind of mental makeup needed to develop those particular skills/traits.
So, if anybody tells you that the Cubs should have focused more on toolsy players in the draft, just tell them that is exactly what they did -- and that Kyle Schwarber, as far as we are concerned, is a good example of this new era 5 tool player.
Filed under: 2014 MLB Draft