• Blake Cole MLB Correspondent

The Five Tools Of Baseball


The Five Tools of Baseball: Getting To The Show

What does it take to make it to the Majors? It's a question that is asked by many. T-ball players, players struggling to break out of the Minor Leagues, and even curious fans, all wonder how one ends up playing America's favorite past time at the highest level. A lot of skill is involved, and players must show a certain level of talent, to even make it from High School to a Minor League organization. And with each MLB team having six Minor League affiliates (from AAA to the lowest rookie leagues), there are a lot of players who exhibit that certain level of skill and talent. But what makes the 25 players on a Major League roster standout from the approximate 5,000 players in the Minor League system? Well, there are actually five things. Five particular skills are looked at the most when evaluating and analyzing position players. The five tools of baseball, as they are called, has been universally accepted by scouts, coaches, and managers as the basis of determining whether or not a player should be called up to play with the big boys. Pitchers are not held to these standards, and are analyzed in a different manner. So what are these five tools exactly?

1. Speed - How fast can he run? It's sounds simple, but it's somewhat of a more complex question. Speed is the only tool that can't be taught. For the most part, it's genetic. Either you're quick, or you're not. While a player can be trained to run faster, the progress that can be made is still somewhat limited by his genetics. Speed is crucial in baseball. It's the difference between getting a single versus a double on a well hit ball. It's the ability to steal second so that you can score on the next hit. It's a scare tactic that can keep a pitcher thinking about you, instead of thinking about throwing quality pitches. Speed is an asset.

2. Arm Strength - This is possibly the most overlooked of the five tools, but can be the most defensive game changer in the entire sport of baseball. Imagine a hit to deep left. It rolls all the way to the wall. By the time the outfielder has the ball in hand, the runner is about to round second. Now is when arm strength matters. A good player can make the throw to third and either hold up the runner, or get him out. A bad player needs a relay man to meet him half way, and the runner is safe at third. This tool is fairly easy to manage. Strength training, gym workouts, and old fashioned throwing practice can improve arm strength a great deal.

3. Fielding - This particular skill is 80% mental and 20% physical. It's the hardest of the skills to explain, but when you see a player who excels in it, you know it. The physical part is the simplest: can he throw the ball, somewhat accurately, to the appropriate base? The mental part is what makes this skill tough to master. Good fielding requires to manage multiple thought processes within a split second. Let's say there are runners at second and third, with one out. The batter hits a grounder right to you at short stop. Do you hold the runner at third to stop the score? Do you immediately take the out at first? The action you take depends on numerous factors. Is the guy on deck capable of hitting a grand slam, or is he an easy ground out? Maybe he can't hit the grand slam, but he's constantly flying out. Will he hit it deep enough to score two runs? If you take the easy out at first, is your first baseman skilled enough to turn the ball to home plate quickly enough to stop the runner at third? How fast are the guys on base? Many decisions and thoughts are processed in just a split second. The ability to read a batter's stance to determine potential hit directions, the knowledge of what may or may not be a bunt situation, and the reliability of your fellow teammates are all other factors that are crossing the mind of a player skilled in fielding. The fact that he can handle these thoughts, organize them, and execute properly, are what separate him from the players who perform poorly in fielding abilities.

4. Hit For Average - A great man once said that baseball is the only sport where a player can do something (in this instance, hitting) three times out of ten, and be considered great. And if somehow a player can do it four out of ten times, he's a legend. This applies to batting average. If you can hit .300, you're doing great. Any higher, and you're rocking it. Hitting isn't as easy as getting up in the box and letting it rip. A good player can hit multiple types of pitches, to multiple locations on the diamond. A good player must be able to read a pitcher and determine what his weak pitches are. He must be able to assess defensive shifts and gaps, and put one where no one is expecting. A team cannot win without runs. To get runs, you have to get on base. And getting on base requires you to be able to actually hit the ball. This skill is probably the easiest to teach. Spend a lot of time in batting practice, work on hand-eye coordination exercises, and watch tape of upcoming pitchers, and you can succeed in hitting for average.

5. Hit For Power - Take everything discussed in hitting for average and apply it here. Then, add the ability to hit 400 feet and into the second deck. Hitting for power requires all the same qualities as hitting for average, plus some. A good player won't just try to rip a homer at every at bat. You have to understand the situation, and apply appropriate power. While home runs are great, and largely celebrated, it isn't smart for someone who is "iffy" at best, to try to take it to the yard every time. And hitting for power doesn't always mean home runs. A lot of successful players have been able to take the ball just shy of the wall, for consistent doubles and triples, with multiple RBIs.

These five things may seem simple to master to some people. But as we've seen from year to year, only a certain few truly shine. If a player can have three of these five tools under his belt, he's almost guaranteed a big league deal. If someone can obtain all five, they're headed to the hall of fame, and the center of baseball talk everywhere. Many greats have been said to have mastered all five tools. Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Bo Jackson are just a few players in the past to have been widely known as five-tool players. There are a few current players that are constantly described as five-tool players: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, and Andrew McCutchen are just a few examples.

The next time you watch your favorite team play, look at the players that exhibit these five qualities. If you can find one, I can almost guarantee that you won't see them optioned down to the Minors. And when you hear that your team has called up a player, now you'll know what made him so special.

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