The Best Multi-Tool Players in MLB
They are the Swiss army knives of baseball—the multi-tool players.
Whether it's hitting for average and power, causing havoc on the basepaths with their legs or shutting down the opposition when they flash their gloves and unleash their throwing arms, these players can seemingly do it all.
These are the players that teams dream about being able to plug into their lineups—the players that general mangers around the game build their teams around.
For some, they hit the ground running, flashing all of their tools from the instant that they made their major league debuts. For others, it took a few years before they figured out how to maximize their considerable natural talents, leading some to question if they were as good as advertised.
But there's no question now that these 10 players are the best multi-tool players that MLB has to offer.
Let's take a look at who made the cut.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Boston Red Sox
While injuries have robbed Jacoby Ellsbury of two of the prime seasons of his career, the free-agent-to-be is a prime example of what a multi-tool player looks like.
An above-average defender with a solid throwing arm, Ellsbury's biggest asset is his speed, which has led him to three American League stolen base crowns since 2007, including 70 in 2009 and 52 in 2013—the fourth season of his career in which he's swiped at least 35 bags.
Some will question Ellsbury's inclusion on this list due to the fact that he's hit more than 10 home runs in a season just once, when he smacked 32 bombs back in 2007. But power can be deceiving, and for Ellsbury, his power comes in his ability to launch the ball into the outfield gaps, allowing his above-average speed to take over and land him on second or third base. He's a career .297 hitter with a .439 slugging percentage despite those injury-plagued seasons.
Power isn't always measured in home runs.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
One of the more polarizing figures in the game thanks to his sometimes outspoken and brash attitude, 21-year-old Bryce Harper's tools are indisputable, despite having career numbers that are less than eye-opening.
But if we dig a little deeper into Harper's career thus far, we can see that numbers are deceiving. Forever linked to Mike Trout, with the pair taking home Rookie of the Year honors in 2012, take a look at how Harper stacks up against two of the best multi-tool players in the history of the game through their age-20 seasons:
|Bryce Harper||257||.272||.834||104 (42)||117||169||29-for-39|
|Mickey Mantle||238||.294||.874||96 (36)||152||155||12-for-20|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||282||.284||.805||96 (38)||141||152||32-for-50|
No player in the game has the kind of raw power that Harper possesses, and while he's still learning the intricacies of fielding his position, few players have as strong of a throwing arm as he does.
Via FanGraphs, his 21 outfield assists since 2012 are the ninth-most among major league outfielders, all of them significantly older than Harper, who didn't celebrate his 21st birthday until after the 2013 season came to an end.
As Harper continues to mature, both mentally and physically, his natural talents—including his above average-yet-underrated speed—will push him to the forefront as one of the game's best all-around talents.
Carlos Gomez, CF, Milwaukee Brewers
There's never been a question about Carlos Gomez's defensive acumen in center field, and he continued to prove why he's arguably the best in the game with plays like the one above against the Houston Astros early in the 2013 season.
But unlike in years past, Gomez isn't only making a positive impact on the game for his team when he's on the field anymore.
This year, Gomez became one of only five players in baseball history to hit at least 20 doubles, 20 home runs, 10 triples and steal 40 bases, the first since Jimmy Rollins pulled it off in his National League MVP-winning 2007 campaign.
With his bat finally catching up to his glove, Gomez has quickly become one of the most exciting and electrifying players in the game today, and as he's smack dab in the middle of his prime years, the best is likely yet to come for the 27-year-old center fielder.
Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Colorado Rockies
It's easy to discount Carlos Gonzalez and the numbers that he puts up, as he spends half of his time in hitter-friendly Coors Field. But to do so would be to overlook one of the most talented players in the game today.
CarGo has posted four consecutive 20-20 seasons—more than any other player in baseball since 2010—hitting .311/.370/.556 over that stretch while playing above-average defense in the outfield, picking up a pair of Gold Glove Awards in the process (2010 and 2012).
While Gonzalez's natural talent and tools are abundant, it's not something that the All-Star outfielder takes for granted, as he explained to Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post back in 2011.
"It's hard because you have to work hard on everything," Gonzalez said. "Throwing, fielding, running the bases...it takes time. You have to make sure you get your work done, but you're always concentrating on hitting."
Hitting was difficult for Gonzalez toward the end of the 2013 season thanks to a finger injury that prevented him from gripping the bat without pain, limiting him to only five at-bats over the final two months of the season.
Still, he managed to hit .302 with 26 home runs, 70 RBI and steal 21 bases while picking up 11 assists from left field, tied with Cleveland's Michael Brantley for the fourth-most at the position.
Now in the prime of his career, the 28-year-old Gonzalez knows that time is not on his side when it comes to flashing five above-average tools: "When you get older, you have to concentrate on the two most important things—hitting and fielding. You do less running."
But until then, CarGo remains one of the game's most exciting players to watch.
Alex Gordon, LF, Kansas City Royals
After looking like a complete bust over the first four years of his career, Alex Gordon finally figured it all out in 2011—and he hasn't looked back since.
Over the past three seasons, Gordon has hit .287/.357/.459, averaging 19 home runs, 80 RBI and 13 stolen bases a season. While his offensive numbers are solid, it's Gordon's defense that really makes us stand up and take notice.
A Gold Glove winner in 2011 and 2012, Gordon is poised to take home his third consecutive piece of hardware again in 2013, tied for the MLB lead with 17 outfield assists with Arizona's Gerardo Parra while finishing third in the American League with 16 defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs.
His 54 outfield assists since 2011 lead all major league outfielders, 14 more than former teammate Jeff Francoeur, who sits in second place with 40. His 10.4 UZR/150 leads all qualified major league left fielders during that span as well.
Adam Jones, CF, Baltimore Orioles
It's difficult to be a multi-tool player and still be underrated, but that's exactly the position that the Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones finds himself in.
Overshadowed by teammates Chris Davis and Manny Machado, the 28-year-old quietly goes about his business. He's put up MVP-caliber numbers in the middle of Baltimore's lineup while playing solid defense in center field and nailing some of the fastest players in the game when they try to run on him.
Just ask the Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Reyes, who fell victim to Jones' cannon of a throwing arm in the video above.
Jones falls under the category of a multi-tool player who took a few years to figure it all out; he didn't really hit his stride until 2011, his third full major league season and his fifth overall.
Since then, he has hit .284 while averaging 30 home runs, 91 RBI and 14 stolen bases a season. The relatively unimpressive stolen base total might give you pause, but when you consider that he hits cleanup in Baltimore's lineup, his opportunities to take off running are few and far between.
While Jones may never become a superstar like some of the other players on this list, you won't find anyone in Baltimore complaining about his production at the plate or in the field.
Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Some may argue that Matt Kemp doesn't belong on this list because he's stolen only 18 bases since the beginning of the 2012 season. But his inability to stay healthy doesn't change the fact that few players in the game have as many above-average tools as the Dodgers center fielder does.
That was evident from 2008 through 2011, when Kemp averaged 28 home runs, 32 stolen bases and hit .290/.351/.496, nearly taking home National League MVP honors in 2011 before losing out to admitted cheater Ryan Braun.
In a 2011 Sports Illustrated poll of 305 major league players, Kemp was ranked as having one of the most dangerous outfield arms in the game, and his above-average speed allows him to get to balls that other center fielders simply cannot make a play on.
Few players provide as complete a package as a healthy Matt Kemp, who is a threat to put runs on the board anytime that he steps to the plate—and is a threat to keep the opposition off the scoreboard whenever he's in the field.
Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
One of the favorites to take home National League MVP honors this season, few players are as crucial to their team's success as Andrew McCutchen is to Pittsburgh's resurgence.
A solid defensive player who uses his speed and athleticism to cover a huge swath of ground at PNC Park, McCutchen is the key to the Pirates' offensive attack. Over the past two seasons, he has posted a .322/.402/.531 slash line, averaging 26 home runs, 90 RBI and 24 stolen bases a season.
McCutchen is consistently among the league leaders in multiple categories, including batting average, OPS, walks, hits and stolen bases, and while his numbers in 2013 were down from a season ago, his all-around game continues to improve.
Now in the prime of his career, the 27-year-old center fielder has firmly established himself as one of baseball's most well-rounded players, a threat to change the game both at the plate and in the field.
Alex Rios, OF, Texas Rangers
Alex Rios is the exception to the rule that the older a player gets, the less effective his tools become—for the 32-year-old outfielder seems to be getting better with age.
Since posting a career-low .227 batting average and .613 OPS with the Chicago White Sox in his age-30 season of 2011, Rios has exploded, hitting .291/.329/.473 while averaging 22 home runs, 86 RBI and 32 stolen bases a season.
He finished second in the American League this season with 42 stolen bases, the fifth-highest total in baseball. This year, Rios became one of only five players to have stolen at least 42 bases and hit at least 18 home runs in his age-32 season.
Aside from his contributions at the plate, Rios is an above-average defender with a strong throwing arm that teams typically don't try and run on.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Any conversation about the best multi-tool players in baseball starts with 22-year-old Mike Trout, who has wasted little time in establishing himself as one of, if not the best all-around player in the game.
One of only two players to hit at least 20 home runs and steal 30 bases in 2013 (Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez was the other), Trout led the American League in runs scored (109) and walks (110), finishing the season third in batting average (.323) and OPS (.988) and fourth in hits (190) and slugging percentage (.551).
To say that Trout's career has been impressive so far would be a gross understatement. Take a look at how his career numbers stack up against two of the greatest multi-tool players that ever wore a major league uniform through their first three seasons:
|Mike Trout||336||.314||.948||151 (62)||196||258||86-for-98|
|Mickey Mantle||365||.295||.881||144 (57)||244||260||20-for-32|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||436||.299||.847||161 (60)||241||228||50-for-74|
When you can keep—and beat—company like that, you're doing something right.
Aside from a throwing arm that is average at best, there isn't anything that Trout can't do on a baseball diamond. And that he's put up the kind of numbers that he has, well before he hits the prime seasons of his career, is bad news for the rest of baseball.
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