Scouts have long graded position players on five tools that are central to success in the game: hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing. The so-called “five-tool player” is a special breed, as those who truly rate above average in each category are extremely rare.
This week, MLB.com is tasking five reporters with building the ultimate five-tool Superman, by picking the best examples of each tool from the talented pool of current big leaguers. One important stipulation: Each player could only be selected for one of the five tools.
Up next: Throwing tool
A great arm is something to behold.
Whether it's unleashing the ball from deep in the outfield, across the infield or behind the plate, it can make the seemingly impossible happen. All of the sudden, the ball is at the base, and a runner who thought he had it made is out.
It's not all about arm strength, of course. Accuracy matters, too. But the best of the best can fire lasers directly at their targets, from any position.
Here are the five picks:
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
Key stat: 91.8 mph average max-effort arm strength in 2019
It’s not as if my defense pick, Andrelton Simmons, has a poor arm. But imagine him with this cannon attached to his shoulder. Tatis, of course, was a sensation in just about every way as a rookie in 2019, and his throwing ability was no exception. No other infielder came close to matching his average arm strength on Statcast-measured throws. He also had the two fastest-tracked infield assists to first base -- reaching 94 mph -- and was responsible for about half of the 92-plus mph assists from all infielders.
It must be noted here that Tatis did have an issue with throwing miscues that drove down his overall defensive value. But that seemed to be more about a rookie being overly aggressive than anything else. It’s certainly not about skill, and combined with Simmons’ fundamentals and defensive savvy, look out.
-- Andrew Simon
Previous picks: Anthony Rendon (hit), Mike Trout (power), Byron Buxton (run), Simmons (defense)
Ramón Laureano, CF, A’s
Key stat: 321-foot assist on Aug. 11, 2018
His nickname is Laser Ramón, so you already knew he’d have to make this list. Laureano’s arm is best known for the throw mentioned above, which resulted in a double play after he caught a fly ball hit by Justin Upton at Angel Stadium. At 321 feet, it was the longest on-the-fly throw for an outfield assist tracked by Statcast (since 2015).
In 2019, it was all about arm strength for Laureano. He had an average max-effort arm strength of 94.1 mph, seventh-fastest among MLB outfielders (min. 25 attempts). He even threw a ball 100.8 mph on April 21, though it didn’t result in an assist. In total, he made 10 throws of 95-plus mph last season and had three throws of 300 feet or more.
-- Sarah Langs
Previous picks: Jeff McNeil (hit), Gary Sánchez (power), Tim Locastro (run), Victor Robles (defense)
Javier Báez, SS, Cubs
Key stat: Five assists over 90 mph in 2019
After bouncing around the infield over his first five seasons, Báez settled in as the Cubs’ starting shortstop last year and was one of the best defensive players in all of baseball. Despite missing almost all of September with a hairline fracture in his left thumb, Báez tied for third in Defensive Runs Saved (26) and placed second among all players in Outs Above Average (+19).
The man known as “El Mago” (The Magician) is blessed with many gifts and would have been a fine pick for the fielding tool, but let’s focus on his rocket for a right arm. Báez was responsible for five of the 31 tracked assists of at least 90 mph by infielders last season, the second most in MLB, and his average arm strength on max-effort throws (88.3 mph) was the third best among infielders.
-- Thomas Harrigan
Previous picks: Michael Brantley (hit), Nelson Cruz (power), Trea Turner (run), Kevin Kiermaier (defense)
J.T. Realmuto, C, Phillies
Key stat: 46.7 percent caught stealing rate in 2019
I want my superplayer to own a cannon and have shown time and time again that he can be accurate with it. Look no further than Realmuto, the class of defenders behind home plate and the quickest gun in the Major Leagues. The precision is there (nine errors across nearly 1,140 innings last year), and so is the power and reaction time. Realmuto paced all full-time catchers (min. 15 throws) with an average arm strength of 88.4 mph on max-effort throws -- a.k.a. those in the top 10 percent of a player’s sample. He also led the field with an average pop time of just 1.88 seconds on throws from home to second, and recorded eight of the 10 fastest caught stealing throws across MLB.
Translation: Realmuto dominates the catcher throwing department. He has never finished lower than third on the MLB pop time leaderboard since Statcast launched, and 2019 was his fastest season yet. He might just be entering his throwing prime, making this the perfect time to claim his golden arm for my superplayer.
-- Matt Kelly
Previous picks: Mookie Betts (hit), Joey Gallo (power), Christian Yelich (run), Harrison Bader (defense)
Cody Bellinger, CF, Dodgers
Key stat: 101.1 mph max arm strength
You need to do it all to be an MVP these days. Bellinger could be a great pick for any tool -- hit, power, speed, glove or arm. You might not realize just how strong his arm is, though, because the focus tends to be on his hitting first, then his running, then his defense. But Bellinger is one of only three outfielders with a tracked throw over 101 mph last season -- Hunter Renfroe and Aristides Aquino are the others -- and that wasn't the first time he hit triple-digit velo on a throw from the outfield (he also did it once during the 2018 postseason).
Bellinger has made some spectacular throws, like his 268-foot laser from right field to third base to bail the Dodgers out of a late-inning bases-loaded jam against the Mets last May 27 (his second outfield assist of that game). Or his 92 mph rocket from right to nail Stephen Strasburg at first base and preserve a Hyun-Jin Ryu no-hit bid on May 12. Or his game-saving throw from center field to the plate against the Red Sox in the 10th inning of Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. He's not just an MVP-caliber hitter; he has one of the strongest outfield arms in the league. And it would be a crime not to grab Bellinger in this five-tools exercise somewhere.
-- David Adler
Previous picks: DJ LeMahieu (hit), Aaron Judge (power), Ronald Acuña Jr. (run), Matt Chapman (defense)