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Prospect How To: The 5 Tools of Hitting

We've all heard of the mystical five tool player, but do we really understand what the five tools are? Andrew Ball breaks down the tools and their importance in fantasy baseball.

Andrew McCutchen has all five tools.
Andrew McCutchen has all five tools.

While I may be somewhat biased, I think Fake Teams as a whole does a great job of covering the minor leagues from a fantasy perspective. In addition to bringing excellence prospect coverage to you every week, we also want to enlighten our readers on how we evaluate young talent. My hope is that I can make scouting easier to understand and more interesting for all of you.

A professional (or amateur) scouting report has many components. There is a section that includes vital information like name, date of birth, handedness, etc., one that includes any known injury history, as well as one that gives a physical description of the player. The most important section, though, focuses on the player's abilities or tools. Position players are graded on five tools, and they are:

The ability to hit for average

The hit tool, as it is more commonly known, directly relates to one of the 5x5 fantasy categories: batting average. Unfortunately, predicting which players will hit at the Major League level is the single most difficult component of scouting. Players throughout their amateur and Minor League careers don't face anything close to Major League pitching, and it is nearly impossible to predict which hitters will make the necessary adjustments at the highest level. Still, evaluations must be made so we look at a hitter's swing mechanics, consistency of hard contact, pitch recognition skills, and confidence at the plate. I personally like hitters that are short to the ball and use the whole field. Although plate discipline is a separate entity with prospects, approach can make a world of difference when grading out young players.

The ability to hit for power

Power it the tool that most fantasy players love. Not only are home runs one of the standard Roto categories, but they also affect runs, RBIs, and average as well. When reading reports, you may often find two different types of power mentioned, raw and usable (or in-game). Raw power refers to how far a prospect can hit a baseball without taking the hit tool into consideration. Usable power takes into account the fact that hitting a baseball is a pre-requisite to hitting a baseball over a fence. Joey Gallo, the Rangers' most recent first round pick, has 80 raw power, but probably 35-40 usable power right now because of the issues with his contact rate. When reading a report, it is important to separate the two power numbers and always add the context of the hit tool to the power numbers.

Running speed

Running speed may possibly be the easiest to grade because a stopwatch does all the work. Batter's speed grade comes from their time from home to first on a ground ball. Speed impacts two fantasy categories, stolen bases and batting average, and one non fantasy category, slugging percentage. The connection to stolen bases is obvious, but the tie to average and slugging is much more subtle. Yet, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Hitters that also run well will beat out more infield hits and stretch more singles into doubles and triples.

Defensive ability and arm strength

Most folks will say the final two tools are irrelevant for fantasy players, but I digress. It is true that we don't use any sort of defensive stats in (most) fantasy leagues, yet we do play players at specific positions on the field. So looking at the likelihood that a prospect can stay at a premium defensive position is of the utmost importance to fantasy owners. We generally want to focus on the offensive profile of a prospect, but let's make sure not to overlook the player's defensive abilities and shortcomings as well.

Every report on a position player will grade these five tools. The most important thing to remember when reading the reports is not to get too caught up in just one facet of a player's game. The overall portrait of a player is much better indicator of future success than any one large weakness or strength. And remember that all the tools in the world (Bubba Starling I am talking to you) still may not result in a star player.

Andrew Ball is a writer for Fake Teams, Fantasy Ninjas, and Beyond the Box Score.

You can follow him on twitter @Andrew_Ball.