Ranking the 5 Best 5-Tool Players in MLB History
In baseball, all position players are judged on five different abilities. These abilities are hitting for average, hitting for power, base-running, throwing and fielding their respective positions.
Players who possess more than one of these five "tools" are major league baseball players. Whether they specialize in the hitting aspect, the defensive aspect, or a combination of the two, honing more than one of these abilities to an above-average level gets most players to the major leagues.
However, the more of these tools a player can master, the more valuable they become. That is why the players who master them all, known as "5-tool players," are considered to be the best players in the game.
There have been a lot of 5-tool players in the history of the game, but only a handful established themselves and stuck around long enough to garner consideration as the best players in history. So, I've fittingly narrowed the long list down to five.
So here are, in my opinion, the five best 5-tool players of all time.
5. CF Ken Griffey, Jr.
Ken Griffey, Jr. spent the majority of his 22-year MLB career with the Seattle Mariners, also spending time with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. Over that span, Griffey earned himself 13 All-Star berths, seven Silver Sluggers and the 1997 AL MVP Award.
Griffey was one of the best players in the game during his career and will eventually go down as one of the greatest of all time once elected to the Hall of Fame.
Griffey possessed all of the five tools on a level well above most who have played the game. His batting average fluctuated over the course of his career, leading to his lower, but still-respectable .284 career mark.
However, his power was never absent from his game until his last season, and he mashed 630 long balls before retiring, currently possessing fifth place on baseball's all-time list, although there is a certain someone that we'll get to later who is only one home run away from that mark.
Apart from hitting, Griffey was no slouch on the basepaths, swiping 184 bases while only being caught 69 times, good for a career success rate of 73 percent. After his power, Griffey may be best known for his defensive prowess, collecting 10 Gold Glove Awards for his mastery of center field.
His arm was also one of the best in the game, with 154 outfield assists to his credit, gunning down runners trying to stretch extra-base hits or score.
There will be no denying Griffey entry to the Hall of Fame, especially as he has not been connected to any stories of PED's. Griffey played during the "Steroid Era," but so far, his incredible reputation has remained untarnished.
4. RF Hank Aaron
Hank Aaron spent the vast majority of his 23-year MLB career with the Braves and was there when the franchise moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1965. He also returned to Milwaukee for the final two seasons of his career to join the Brewers.
Over the course of his career, Aaron was named an all-star 25 times (there were two All-Star games from 1959-1962) and won the 1957 NL MVP, along with multiple top finishes. Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, appearing on 97.83 percent of the ballots.
Aaron's set of skills included all five tools refined to an even higher level than Griffey would later achieve. He showed he could hit for average, posting a career .305 mark, but it was his power that etched his name into the history books.
"Hammerin' Hank" slugged a then-record 755 home runs during his career, breaking Babe Ruth's record of 714. Aaron used these first two tools to set the MLB career RBI record, driving in an incredible 2,297 runs, a record that still stands today.
Aaron also showed he could steal a base when the situation called for him to do so, stealing 240 bases in total. In the field, he became one of the game's most consistent outfielders during his time, winning three Gold Glove Awards as a right fielder. With 201 outfield assists, he also warned baserunners not to test his arm, as he was quite capable of throwing them out.
Hank Aaron possessed all five tools at an elite level. However, it is his power that has earned him the respect of everyone in the baseball world. Aaron is heavily argued as the true home run king, a title that will likely continue to be fought for due to the actions of the next two players on this list...
3. SS/3B Alex Rodriguez
Say what you want about the Yankees' superstar third baseman. He's constantly in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, he used steroids for three years in Texas, he's self-centered, whatever. What you can't do is deny his abilities.
A-Rod is one of the best players to ever play the game of baseball, on every level. He is a career .302 hitter, he has hit 629 home runs and he has won three MVPs, 10 Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves.
He has been named to 14 All-Star Games so far during 16 full seasons for the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, and two years ago finally got his World Series ring in New York.
A-Rod has his critics, but regardless he is still one of the greatest 5-tool players of all time. When all is said and done, he might be the best 5-tool player of all time. As I mentioned, he is a career .300-hitter and well on his way to taking his place upon baseball's home run throne, but the fact that his skills don't stop there is what makes him a truly great player.
A-Rod was a shortstop for the Mariners and Rangers, and whilst manning the position, was recognized as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. His range and arm strength made him a perennial Gold Glove candidate, but upon accepting a trade to the Yankees, he was moved to third base.
He was able to make the switch seamlessly thanks to his strong arm and naturally quick reactions. Had he stayed at shortstop, he likely would have gone down as the best of all time, but it's the switch to third that proves how tremendous a fielder Rodriguez is.
As if he wasn't good enough already, prior to his recent complications with his hip and knee, A-Rod was actually a very good baserunner. He even stole 46 bases for the M's in 1998 and has swiped a grand total of 305 bags on his career. It is also that speed that helped Rodriguez score 100-plus runs over 13 consecutive seasons from 1996-2008.
While is is questionable as to whether or not Rodriguez will make the Hall of Fame due to his past steroid use, he is still undoubtedly one of the best players to play the game and currently the third-best 5-tool player in MLB history.
2. LF Barry Bonds
Oh, Barry. Barry, Barry, Barry. What would baseball be without you?
Free from tainted records, that's what.
Barry Bonds is without a doubt the most controversial player in MLB history, as it has been all but proven he has used PEDs, and a lot of them. Regardless, there is still no denying that Bonds is one of the greatest players of all time.
Would he have hit all 762 home runs without the steroids? Doubtful, but I for one still think he would have at least hit 650. Most of his home runs were absolute bombs, so without the extra help, a lot of them still would have gone out, just not the first-row shots. That's a discussion for another day, though.
Now understandably, a lot of people only think of the home runs when they think of Bonds, but that's not the only weapon in his arsenal, not by a long shot. Bonds also hit for a high batting average, posting a .298 mark over his 22-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants.
On the defensive side of things, Bonds was actually an eight-time Gold Glove winner in left field and had a great arm as well, with 173 total outfield assists.
Perhaps the most surprising stat for Bonds is his incredible number of stolen bases. He swiped 514 bags on his career, almost evenly split between his stay in Pittsburgh and his time in San Fran.
Obviously most of us think of Bonds as the large-headed, Hulk-like slugger who perfectly fit his team's name, the Giants. However, back with the Pirates, Bonds was a very skinny guy with a lot of speed. It's surprising, but among these top 5-tool players, Bonds has by far the most steals.
As with A-Rod, a cloud of uncertainty hangs around the question of his entry to the Hall of Fame due to possible steroid use, but Bonds has yet to be found guilty of actually taking PEDs, so you never know.
Now who was a better 5-tool player than Barry Bonds? Well it was none other than his godfather....
1. CF Willie Mays
Who else but the Say Hey Kid himself, the great Willie Mays? Mays is undoubtedly the greatest 5-tool player of all time, and he also has been argued to be the greatest overall player of all time, right in the discussion with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Mays spent the vast majority of his 22-year career with the Giants, both in New York and in San Francisco after the move in 1958, and finished up with a year and a half stint with the Mets. He was the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year, a 24-time All-Star and a two-time NL MVP, but even those accolades cannot sum up how truly spectacular of a player he was.
Mays could hit better than most anyone in the game, and he did so for both average and power. He was a lifetime .302 hitter and hit 660 career home runs, collecting 3,283 hits along the way. Mays was also a great baserunner, stealing 338 bases when he wasn't circling the diamond. Even with these immaculate offensive statistics however, Mays might be better known for his defense.
Mays was no ordinary centerfielder. He won 12 Gold Glove Awards during his playing years, as he was a consistently great fielder with a cannon for an arm, with 195 outfield assists. However, his entire career may be defined by one incredible play.
This play was so spectacular, it was has been simply dubbed "The Catch." In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, Mays made a running over-the-shoulder catch of a ball hit deep to center field at the Polo Grounds off the bat of Vic Wertz in the top of the eighth inning with the score tied and runners on first and second.
The play saved the game, which the Giants would eventually win on a walk-off home run in the 10th. The Giants would also go on to sweep that World Series, the only championship Mays would win.
Willie Mays was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 on the first ballot.
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