Ranking the 25 Most Freakish Athletes in Major League Baseball
Baseball players don’t always get the credit they deserve when it comes to how athletic they are—and sometimes, that’s rightfully so.
There may be plenty of overweight, unathletic players on 25-man rosters, but there are certainly some that are just the opposite and turn heads when they take the field. Of course, this discussion isn’t all about weight, but more about how well-rounded players are.
In baseball, players with incredible talent are usually deemed “five-tool” players. These are those who excel in hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, arm strength and fielding ability. The best players in the game don’t always have five tools, but all have at least a couple.
For example, reigning American League MVP Miguel Cabrera is not a five-tool player. He hits for average and with a ton of power, but he is very slow and isn’t the greatest fielder. But will Cabrera still make this list because of how incredible those two tools are, overpowering the lack of the other three?
Let’s take a look to see who Major League Baseball’s most freakish athletes are.
The Somewhat Freaks
25. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, Adrian Gonzalez is one of the household names in baseball.
A solid defender at first base and a lethal hitter from the plate, Gonzalez has many of the qualities that each player hopes to have. Although Gonzalez may be a good hitter, he’s one of the slowest in the game. Luckily, while in Boston, he used the Green Monster so that he wouldn’t have to sprint to get a double.
24. Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics
Josh Reddick had a breakout year in 2012 with the Oakland Athletics, his first full year as an everyday player. Reddick doesn’t hit with a ton of consistency, but last season, he showed that he has power, hitting 32 home runs. Defensively, Reddick is one of the top outfielders in the game. He has the eighth-best outfield arm and is the third-best defensive outfielder, according to FanGraphs. If he had better speed, he’d be higher on this list.
23. Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
A couple of down years has taken Hanley Ramirez out of the ridiculous category, but he’s still a pretty good athlete. Ramirez used to be one of the top overall players in the game. He has a career-high batting average of .342 and usually hits over 20 home runs per year. Ramirez has also taken his abilities to the basepaths, stealing at least 20 bags per year for the last seven years. He doesn’t have the best glove, though, no matter where he plays in the field.
22. Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Jason Heyward is one of the rising young stars in baseball and in a couple of years, he could be considered one of the game’s best. He hits with good power, slugging 27 home runs last season, but hits with average consistency, finishing 2012 with a .269 average. Defensively, FanGraphs has him as the second-best outfielder from last year. He doesn’t, however, have the best arm in the game. But he does have great range, which is a part of his above-average speed.
21. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
Over the course of Matt Holliday’s nine-year career, he’s been all about consistency. When you put him in the lineup for 162 games, you know exactly what you’re going to get. He’s a career .313 hitter, hitting as high as .340 without ever dropping below .290. He’s hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last seven seasons and will almost always drive in over 100 runs. He’s usually a good defender but absolutely lacks speed on the bases. Even still, he’s been a very valuable player over the years.
20. Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers
Austin Jackson is on the rise. It seems that he’s finally figured out his swing and he’s going to start producing at All-Star levels in the near future. 2012 was the first year Jackson hit for average, hitting .300, and his power is starting to show as well, hitting 16 home runs last year. He has the potential to steal plenty of bases, swiping at least 20 twice in three seasons, but last year only stole 12. Jackson doesn’t have the strong arm, but he still plays center field very well.
19. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Still establishing himself as one of the top outfielders in baseball, Carlos Gonzalez has had an impressive start to his career. Over the last three seasons, he’s been very consistent from the plate, hitting over .300 in two seasons and falling a few hits shy in the other. He’s got solid power, but his home run total has decreased in each of the last few seasons. Gonzalez has good speed and a strong arm but isn’t the greatest of fielders, as his routes aren’t always the best.
The 'Close, but No Cigar' Freaks
18. Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves
Justin Upton is a star in the eyes of the Atlanta Braves, but apparently, he isn’t in the eyes of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as they dealt him this past winter.
Upton is certainly a player that has all five tools, but he hasn’t been able to perfect them all just yet. His batting average has been up and down and so have his home run totals. He’s got good speed, stealing around 20 bases per year, and is also a strong fielder with a good arm. He’s bound to win an MVP someday if he continues to develop.
17. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto is arguably the best first baseman in baseball, but injuries plagued his 2012 campaign and allowed him to play in just 111 games. Even still, he was the most valuable first baseman in terms of WAR, according to FanGraphs (although he didn’t have the necessary plate appearances to originally be considered). He has a great bat, consistency- and power-wise, and a fantastic glove. What hurts him in these rankings is his baserunning, which is subpar, to say the least.
16. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Much like the aforementioned Votto, Matt Kemp probably would’ve had a spectacular season if he would’ve stayed healthy. Kemp only played in 106 games but still had an impressive season. His bat is usually good—for consistency and power—but is jumpy at times. His batting average dropped nearly 50 points from 2009 to 2010 and then rose around 75 points in 2011. His speed is also inconsistent and that’s mainly due to hamstring issues. His isn’t a great fielder but has a fair arm that runners don’t usually test.
15. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Injuries seem to be a trend here. Evan Longoria, one of the top third basemen in baseball, only played in 74 games last year due to a hamstring issue. The year before, he missed time with an oblique injury. He’s still developing but has shown that he has three-plus great tools. One, he’s got great power and has the ability to show it at any moment’s notice. Two and three, he’s a fantastic fielder with a very strong arm that he’s not afraid to flaunt. He doesn’t have much speed at all and his batting average fluctuates year to year, though.
14. Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Jay Bruce has only been in the big leagues for five years and he’s already a stud. His best feature is his power at the plate. He’s increased his home run total in each of the last five seasons, hitting 34 long balls in 2012. He has yet to hit with much consistency, compiling a .255 career batting average. Speed isn’t really on his side, but he has stints where it’s a positive attribute. Fielding-wise, Bruce is inconsistent with his glove but has an incredible arm from right field. Overall, improving his batting average would do wonders for his MVP hopes.
13. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
Over the last couple of years, Troy Tulowitzki has been one of the most balanced shortstops in baseball, excelling on both sides of the field. When healthy, Tulowitzki has no problem hitting around .300 while also hitting close to 30 home runs—something most shortstops aren’t capable of doing. The Colorado Rockies shortstop shows solid speed at times and uses it to snag balls in the field. He’s got a great glove and an arm that makes distant throws easy. If he could just stay healthy, there’s no reason why he couldn’t play at an even higher level.
The 'Wow, He’s Nuts' Freaks
12. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
As simple as it may seem, when Buster Posey is healthy, he’s incredible. Unfortunately, he’s only been 100 percent healthy in one of his three seasons as the catcher for the San Francisco Giants.
Even still, he’s one of the most consistent hitters in the game and has great power from behind the plate. Stealing bases isn’t really his thing, but he isn’t a terrible baserunner. He’s a smart backstop that is great at blocking balls and has a strong enough arm to throw out a potential base-stealer or two. He won his first National League MVP Award last season. Will 2013 be two in a row?
11. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
Albert Pujols really is a machine, whether he likes to be called one or not. He has a crazy bat each season that almost always entails hitting over .300 with more than 30 home runs. He’s hit at least 40 home runs six times and has also driven in at least 100 runs in all but one of his major league seasons. Pujols isn’t very fast on the basepaths, by any means, and sometimes that’s fairly obvious. He is a very good defensive first baseman, though. However, being a first baseman doesn’t always allow you to show off your arm strength. Generally speaking, we’ll say that Pujols has a good arm.
10. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper may have just made his major league debut last year, but he’s already one of the best and most athletic players in baseball. He’s one of the top outfielders, showing off a ridiculously strong arm, and has the ability to make catches where other outfielders would let balls drop. Offensively, his consistency is going to get better, but hitting .270 in a rookie season is nothing to scoff at. Hitting 22 home runs isn’t, either. What sets Harper apart, though, is his speed, which can be deceptive at times. He stole 18 bases last year, but even when he isn’t trying to swipe a bag, he’s running at full speed.
9. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
Many are going to think that I’m crazy for putting Adam Jones here, but I’m not crazy. He’s extremely athletic and one of the most underrated stars in the game. Jones plays a solid center field where smart runners won’t test his arm strength—and if they do, well, next time they won’t. He’s also starting to use his legs more often, stealing more bases and causing more havoc. At the plate, he’s beginning to hit with more consistency and with more power. He set career highs in average and home runs last season with the Baltimore Orioles. Right now, he has five very good, but not great, tools.
8. Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels
Although Josh Hamilton isn’t the greatest fielder—and he isn’t if you look deeper than just errors and assists—but his offensive prowess makes up for it. Last season, Hamilton was actually one of the biggest defensive liabilities out in center field. But like I was just saying, not many can hit with him. He has great bat speed that leads to hit after hit after hit, and many of his hits go over the fence for home runs. Forty-three of them did in 2012 while hitting .285. Hamilton doesn’t have the quickest feet, but he’s a smart baserunner that doesn’t make boneheaded mistakes that cost his team runs.
7. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista has gone from a no-name player on the Pittsburgh Pirates to an MVP with the Toronto Blue Jays in a short span of time.
Over the last couple of seasons, Bautista has been up there with the best overall players in baseball. When at his best, he hits close to .300 but usually tends to hit in the .250 range. He has fantastic power that gives him the ability to hit monstrous home runs game after game, slugging 27 in just 92 games last season.
Bautista isn’t going to be stealing many bases, but he knows what to do and what not to do when it comes to running them.
Defensively, runners shouldn’t test Bautista. He has a strong arm that can gun a runner down from basically any spot in the outfield. He doesn’t, however, have the best glove. His range is lacking and he doesn’t always take the best routes to the ball. But overall, he’s a defensive asset.
If Bautista could just stay healthy, who knows what kind of ridiculous numbers he’d put up?
6. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
The introduction slide asked whether Miguel Cabrera was a freakish athlete or not, and yet, now here he is: No. 6 on the list.
Looking at his defensive game first, Cabrera isn’t very good. Before Prince Fielder came to the Detroit Tigers and Cabrera was a first baseman, he was average at best. Now that he’s a third baseman, he’s definitely below average. He has minimal range and not the strongest arm.
To get the other negative out of the way early, Cabrera is slow. There’s no other way to put it. He just doesn’t move around well whatsoever and that’s mainly due to his size. He’s a big guy and big guys don’t run well. That might not always be a fact, but it stands true here.
Now to the good stuff. Cabrera is the best offensive player in baseball and although it’s somewhat close, it really isn’t. A player doesn’t win the Triple Crown based on luck; he wins it with skill.
Cabrera has always been a fantastic hitter, to the point where hitting over .300 isn’t even a question anymore. The new question is how much over .300 is he going to hit. Last season, it was 30 points higher. And then there’s his power, which is almost second to none. The ball flies off his bat and he makes it look easy. For these two tools alone, he’s No. 6.
5. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
One could easily make the case that Ryan Braun is the best player in baseball. He’s our first example of what a real five-tool player looks like.
First is Braun’s bat. He’s hit over .300 in all but one of his six seasons as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, and he knows how to draw a walk, too.
Staying healthy has allowed him to slug with the best of them, consistently hitting more than the league average in home runs each season. Last year, he set a new career high with 41 long balls. That number could definitely increase as well.
What’s interesting about Braun is his elusiveness when running. Looking at him, you’d never guess that he’s a good runner, but he is. He’s stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last two seasons, which is certainly unorthodox for a power-hitting outfielder. He’s also smart on the bases when he isn’t stealing.
Defensively, Braun is very good. He doesn’t have the strongest outfield arm, but he makes up for it with his range and his ability to make tough plays. Last season, he was one of the top 20 defensive outfielders in baseball in terms of UZR/150, according to FanGraphs.
Braun is an MVP candidate each season and will continue to be until he retires—or at least it seems that way to this point in his career.
4. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout is our second-best example of a five-tool player. He may be entering just his second year with the Los Angeles Angels, but he made quite the impression during his 2012 rookie campaign where he finished second in the American League MVP Award voting.
Trout and Michael Bourn are neck and neck for the title of best defensive outfielder. Both have incredible range that allows them to make plays at positions they aren’t even playing. Neither has the best arm in the game, but they can both hold their own. Trout, though, makes his job look much easier.
From the batter’s box, Trout is really making a name for himself.
Hitting 30 home runs and scoring 129 runs in 139 games as a rookie is unheard of, and yet Trout did it last season. He hit .326 as well, which was one of the best batting averages in the American League. He has a very smart eye that allows him to pick and choose when and when not to swing at pitches he can and can’t hit.
Putting the entire package together is his speed. I said that his speed gives him an edge defensively, but it also does offensively. He stole 49 bases last season, the most in Major League Baseball.
He’s nearly impossible to catch and there really is no sense in even throwing down to second base. He’s also already the best baserunner in the game, so the fact that he scored so often shouldn’t be shocking.
3. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
The best overall second baseman, Robinson Cano comes into our list as the third-most athletic baseball player. Entering the last year of his contract, Cano is the best player the New York Yankees have and is also one of the biggest stars in the game.
Cano may not be the sharpest defensive second baseman, but he is one of the smoothest. Each play he makes, he makes with ease. Routine grounders look easy, fly balls down the foul line look easy and the toughest of double-play balls look easy. He makes playing second base look easy.
His one negative tool is his baserunning. He isn’t very fast and doesn’t always make the smartest decisions going base to base. Cano isn’t a liability on the basepaths, but he’s quickly getting there. Maybe he should take some notes from Brett Gardner.
But Cano’s offensive game takes the cake. Playing in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, Cano is starting to stroke it each at-bat he gets. He’s hit over .300 the last four seasons and is really starting to flaunt his power.
Cano’s home run totals are on the rise, hitting a career-high 33 homers last season. He’s driving in a ton of runs and is as productive as can be for the Bronx Bombers. It’s just a matter of time before he wins an MVP Award.
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen might not be the best fielder in the world, but he is still one of the most athletic baseball players currently in spring training. The Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to build a championship-worthy club around him, and for good reason.
First, we approach the not so good. McCutchen is a rather pedestrian fielder. He does his job and that’s it—no less and usually no more. He does make some spectacular catches, but that’s primarily because he doesn’t always take great routes to the ball and has his legs make up the difference. He doesn’t have a great arm, either.
But back to his legs. McCutchen is quick—very quick. He steals frequently but hasn’t racked up a scary stolen base total yet. There’s nothing wrong with swiping 20 bases per season, though, which is something he’s done the last four seasons.
After four years, it seems that McCutchen is finally looking more comfortable at the plate. His first three years with the Pirates, he was a fair hitter. He wasn’t that close to hitting with the best in the National League, but he wasn’t the worst. Last season, he finished second in the batting race behind Buster Posey.
McCutchen is also starting to break out power-wise. His power numbers have increased each season since his rookie year, going from 16 in 2009 to 31 in 2012. At this rate, he could probably hit close to 40 next season, putting him in a prime spot for an MVP Award.
1. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton is the most athletic baseball player, and it’s not even that close. The Miami Marlins hung onto him when they traded every other notable player away. That’s because he’s special and even the Marlins, who don’t seem to know much, know it.
Speed, though, is not Stanton’s best friend. He isn’t going to steal very often because he just isn’t fast enough to beat the throws to second base. He isn’t going to take many chances on the basepaths, frankly because he isn’t quick enough to beat the throws coming into the infield. But this is all fine.
Stanton is a miraculous fielder with a cannon for an arm. Ask any runner who has ever tested him, trying to tag up from third base. It just isn’t going to happen. He makes tough plays in the outfield look easy and is an underrated defender.
It’s also quite possible that he’s underrated offensively, despite putting up God-like numbers year after year.
Stanton is starting to improve his eye, which has led to an increase in his batting average. He’s only been in the league for three years but was close to hitting .300 last season. He’s still striking out a bunch, but I expect his strikeout rate to start decreasing rapidly sooner rather than later.
And then there’s Stanton’s top tool, his power. A lot of the players on this list have power, but no one really has the power that Stanton has. He drives the ball like crazy and the ball just explodes off of his bat. Hitting 93 home runs in your first three seasons is no easy feat, but Stanton’s done it.
If Stanton could get some protection in the lineup, and if he continues to improve with each season, he’ll be the best player in baseball.