Top 20 Best 5-Tool Players in Baseball History

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2011

Top 20 Best 5-Tool Players in Baseball History

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    Speed, power, contact, glove work and a cannon arm, if you say you possess all of these qualities you are what is known in baseball as a 5-tool player. Of course, you would also be full of it. The combination of these talents, on the major league level, is as rare as an unassisted triple play.

    In the history of the game, there are only a handful of players that can legitimately be considered to be big league 5-tool players. This list celebrates the ones who stepped onto a baseball field and could do it all.

No. 20: Kirby Puckett

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    Kirby Puckett didn't look like the 5-tool player he was. He was surprisingly quick and he had impressive hops. Puckett stole over 20 bases twice and he had terrific range in centerfield.

    At the plate he was a terrific combination of power and average. His career highs featured 31 home runs in a season and a .356 batting average. Puckett was solid in all areas, but not elite enough in any one area to push him higher.

No. 19: Billy Hamilton

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    If you don't know Billy Hamilton, let me just tell you his career best batting average was .403. That should give you a hint as to the era in which he played. Hamilton was one of the most complete players in the game as baseball entered the 1900's.

    He stole over 100 bases in a season four times, played outstanding outfield defense and his career high of 7 home runs was actually a decent number in his time.

No. 18: Rickey Henderson

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    Rickey Henderson had freakish speed and quickness. He also had solid power. He has a career high of 28 home runs in a season.

    He brought a decent glove and won one gold glove. Rickey is only lacking in arm strength, but his dominance in the others makes up for his average arm. If you don't think Henderson belongs on this list just ask him.

No. 17: Josh Hamilton

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    Hamilton has as much power as anyone currently playing and he led the American League in batting average in 2010.

    He plays a very solid defensive centerfield and he has an arm cannon. In high school he was reported to have a mid-90's fastball. Hamilton also has solid speed, which is reflected better in his defensive range than his base stealing.

No. 16: Dave Winfield

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    Dave Winfield was a freak of an athlete. Coming out of college he was drafted in baseball, football and basketball (NBA and ABA).

    Winfield hit over .300 four times in his career, with a high of .340. He season high in home runs was 37. He also had an elite level arm in right field and he won the College World Series MVP as a pitcher. He also won six Gold Gloves.

    The most surprising thing about Winfiled is his speed. He stole over 20 bases four times in his career.

No. 15: 'Cool Papa' Bell

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    Josh Gibson once said, in a line later used by Muhammad Ali,"Cool Papa Bell was so fast he could get out of bed, turn out the lights across the room and be back in bed under the covers before the lights went out."

    Bell spent his entire career in the Negro Leagues. He was a terrific defensive centerfielder and his last season, he hit an eye-popping .430. His career high of 15 home runs, was a decent number for his era.

No. 14: Mike Schmidt

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    Schmidt was one of the best power hitters and defensive players of his generation. He won the gold glove nine straight years and led the National League in home runs eight times.

    Schmidt had the arm strength required to be an elite defensive third baseman. He was only average in two categories: speed and contact. He posted a career high 29 steals in a single season and ended his career as .266 hitter while only hitting over .300 once.

No. 13: Bo Jackson

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    Bo Jackson is the king of the freaks of nature. You are hard pressed to find a better combination of power and speed. This guy hit places baseballs had never been and he ran the fastest verifiable 40 time in the history of the NFL combine.

    He also brought with him one of the most feared arm rifles in the history of the game. His defense was not consistently elite, but at times it was spectacular.

    The knock against Bo is his ability to make contact. He struck out a lot. This was an area in which he was consistently improving. Bo hit .272 before injuring his hip and then .279 before retiring.

No. 12: Vladimir Guerrero

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    If Guerrero can reach it, he can hit it and hit it hard. Guerrero may be the greatest bad ball hitter in the history of the game. He also has one of the best throwing arms.

    He displayed solid speed and put up a season with 40 steals. His defense is far from elite, but earlier in his career it was not the travesty that it is now. 

No. 11: Ichiro

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    There is no questioning Ichiro's contact, speed, arm or defense. He is among the best in the game in all of those categories. The one area he has not dominated is in the power category. His career high in home runs is a decent 15.

    Anyone who has ever watched Ichiro take batting practice, however, will tell you that power is a tool Ichiro carries. He routinely jacks balls into the stands.

    *If you like this drawing, check out more here.

No. 10: Henry Aaron

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    Hammerin' Hank led the National League batting title twice and the home run crown four times in his storied career. No one is going to question what he brought to the plate.

    Aaron was also a very strong defensive right fielder. He won three straight Gold Gloves early in his career and he featured a strong throwing arm. Aaron also had solid speed. He had nine straight seasons with more than 15 stolen bases and a high of 31.

No. 9: Babe Ruth

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    Babe Ruth was certainly not a 5-tool player at the end of his career. The guy even looks slow in the sped-up herky jerky replays.

    However, as a younger player, on-lookers marveled at his speed and size. He twice stole a decent 17 bases in a season. He was also regarded as a solid defensive player.

    As for the combo of power, contact and throwing arm, Ruth is unrivaled.

No. 8: Tris Speaker

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    Speaker dominated baseball soon after the turn of the century. He could hit for power and once led the league with 10 home runs and he ended with a .344 career batting average.

    He had the speed to give him elite range in centerfield and he stole 30 more bases seven times in his career. Speaker is considered to be one of the best defensive outfileders to ever put on a glove and he had the arm to go with his fielding.

No. 7: Barry Bonds

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    Lost in the clutter of Bonds late career is the fact that he was a speedy gold glove outfielder in his early days. Bonds could always hit for power and average, but he also had the glove, arm and feet.

    Bonds stole over 30 bases eight times in his career and he won seven gold gloves. The only thing holding Bonds back is his throwing arm.

No. 6: Alex Rodriguez

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    Alex Rodriguez brings it all. Look at his career highs: .356 average, 57 home runs and 46 stolen bases. He won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop. He has a very solid, if not quite, elite arm. 

    A-Rod is only held out of the top-5 due to his use of performance enhancers clouding what is his natural ability.

No. 5: Ty Cobb

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    Ty Cobb may offer the best combination of speed and contact on the list. In the same season, Cobb hit .420 and stole 127 bases. Both of those numbers seem impossible in today's game.

    As for his defensive game, Tris Speaker summed it up best, "as an outfielder Ty Cobb is unusually good.  I think his weakness, so far as he has any, is in his throwing arm. Not that his arm is weak by any means but it is not his strongest point."

    Cobb also had some power. He ended his career with 117 home runs in an era where they were few and far between.

No. 4: Oscar Charleston

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    Charleston may have been the most complete player to ever play in the Negro Leagues and any list of the greatest centerfielders in baseball history is not complete without him. 

    His style of play inspired sports writers to compare him to Ty Cobb, but those that played with him said he had far more power and superior defense than Cobb.

No. 3: Mickey Mantle

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    Mickey Mantle's power is off the charts and his ability to make contact is not far behind. He was a very good defensive centerfielder and he was rewarded with one gold glove.

    He had a very strong, but not quite elite throwing arm and excellent speed. His speed is better judged by his range in the outfield than his stolen bases. Mantle was quoted later in his life as saying, "If 40/40 was so impressive, i’d have done it every year.” Mantle still was able to end his career with 153 stolen bases.

No. 2: Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Griffey Jr. made everything look easy. His grace almost made you miss how fast he was running or how hard he was swinging. Griffey's season bests include a .327 average and 56 home runs (twice). He also posted a high of 24 stolen bases.

    Griffey's speed was more evident in the outfield. He was faster than he was quick. He used this speed and instincts to be on a short list of best defensive outfielders in the history of the game. He also featured a near elite arm.

No. 1: Wllie Mays

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    Say hey, that kid can do it all. In different seasons, Mays led the league in average, home runs and steals. He is arguably the greatest defensive centerfielder ever and he had the arm to go with his glove.

    There wasn't a thing Mays couldn't do on a baseball field.

Honorable Mention: Joe DiMaggio

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    There is no doubt about Joltin' Joe at the plate. His career high in home runs was 46 and .381 in average.

    He was one of the best defensive centerfielders of his era and he had a better than average throwing arm. DiMaggio is only llimited by his lack of elite speed. He had good range in center, but he failed to ever post a season with double-digits in steals.

Honorable Mention: Roberto Clemente

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    Clemente could hit. He consistently posted one of the best averages in the league and his career high of 29 home runs came in a time when 29 home runs put you near the league lead.

    Clemente is regarded as one of the best defensive right fielders to step onto a field and he had what many believe to be the strongest throwing arm in the history of the outfield.

    The one knock against Clemente is his speed. He was not slow, but he never stole more than 12 bases in a season. 

Honorable Mention: George Brett

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    Brett flirted with hitting .400 and he routinely hit over 20 home runs in a season. He was solid on defense and captured one gold glove. He also had the arm strength required to play third base.

    Brett's biggest knock is his speed. It was decent, but far from elite. Brett posted double digit steal in seven straight seasons early in his career.

Honorable Mention: Alfonso Soriano

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    Soriano has deceptive power for his wiry frame. There is no doubt he is explosive. 

    His defense consistency comes into question, but his flashes of greatness in the field have shown he has the tool, he just doesn't alway use it. Soriano does not have elite contact, but he has a decent career average of .277.

Honorable Mention: Ted Williams

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    Ted Williams laughs at only having 5 tools. The guy was an elite fighter pilot and fly fisherman and oh year, he very well may be the greatest hitter that ever lived and he had a decent arm.

    He was, however, not the greatest defensive outfielder and he had average speed. His unmatched combination of power and contact are enough to warrant his presence on this list.

Honorable Mention: Carl Crawford

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    Carl Crawford's 5-tools just earned him 142 million dollars over seven years. Crawford certainly isn't the biggest power hitter on this list, but he's put up decent power numbers and his speed and defense make up the difference.

    The thing keeping Crawford down on this list is his throwing arm.

Honorable Mention: Stan Musial

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    Stan did not get his nickname "The Man" because he oppressed people. He earned it because he dominated at the plate. He had a solid throwing arm (he even pitched in one game) and defense.

    Musial's average speed is what relegates him to the honorable mention list.

Honorable Mention: Roberto Alomar

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    Alomar had a career high average of .336, 24 home runs and 55 stolen bases. He was one of the best defensive second baseman in the game

    His only 5-tool weakness was his throwing arm. He had a good arm for a second baseman, but his arm does not compare to others on this list.