Is he really a five-tool player?

By Lucas Deal

Don’t you hate it when you’re watching a baseball game and the announcers are going on and on about some no-name rookie hitting .157 who they claim could be the next great “five-tool player?”

The announcers will say something like, “Despite his low batting average and high strikeout totals, I believe (insert name here) is still becoming accustomed to the league and, when he gets used to big league pitching, should take off.”

Support the Daily Illini in College Media Madness!

Help the Daily Illini take back the top spot in the College Media Madness fundraising competition! See the current ranking here.

learn more
donate now

We usually tend to agree with these statements and often give “The Next Willie Mays,” or “The Next Eric Davis” a pass when we should be running for cover. Why? It’s simple really.

If a player is as great as the hype they’re given, they shouldn’t need a year to get used to their surroundings. They should just come right out and play.

Having what baseball pundits call the five tools – the ability to hit for power, the ability to hit for average, great base running skills, stellar defensive skills and a strong throwing arm – are not tools that all players have.

And while some players have been able to make themselves into five-tool players through hard work (Pujols couldn’t field – or run – when he got to St. Louis in 2001), most five-tool guys have already established themselves as stars when they get to the big leagues.

Go back and look at Mays’ first couple seasons or Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or even Ted Williams. They were good, real good.

Davis, who played more than 10 years after Mays retired, was good. But several injuries and an unfortunate battle with colon cancer robbed him of his chance to be remembered as one of the all-time greats.

However, the success he had when he was healthy is still recognizable in comparison to the legit five-tool players of recent memory.

Speaking of which, just look back at some of best five-tool players of the last 15 years; guys like Larry Walker, Ken Griffey Jr. and A-Rod, and look at how they started their careers.

In Walker’s first full season, he went yard 19 times, stole 21 bases and had a .985 fielding percentage. In his second season, he hit .290 with 16 homers, 14 steals and .991 fielding percentage.

Junior only hit .264 in his first year, but by his second season his average had climbed to .300 and added 22 home runs. By season five, Junior hit .309 with 45 homers, 17 steals and a .991 fielding percentage.

A-Rod’s numbers are even gaudier.

In 1996, his first complete season with the Mariners, he hit .358 with 36 homers, 123 RBIs, 15 steals and a .977 fielding percentage.

That .358 average won him his first and only AL batting title.

Legit five-tool players don’t need a season to hit .216 with 12 homers and 14 steals.

No offense to Alex Gordon, the Royals rookie third baseman who was showered with “five-tool” compliments during the Royals-Red Sox season opener, and spurred me to write this column, but there’s a reason he’s struggled so badly thus far.

He’s not ready. He might be in a few months or maybe sometime next year, but he just isn’t now.

Furthermore, I will admit that he has a great swing, but his .125 average is still only as good as every other scrub with a .125 average. And sure, his first big league homer might have been absolutely smashed, but it’s still not worth any more than the inside-the-park homer the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins hit in Florida on April 7.

Gordon will be a good major league player, but a “five-tool” player? Nope. Five-tool players don’t hit .125.

Lucas Deal is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]