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How to build a 5-tool Superman? Next up: Power

@_dadler and @HarriganMLB and @AndrewSimonMLB and @mattkellyMLB and @SlangsOnSports
April 27, 2020

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 as above average in each category are extremely rare. This week, MLB.com

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 as 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.

Part I: Hit tool

Up next: Power tool

Who doesn’t love the long ball?

Power has captivated the baseball world since the sport emerged from the Dead Ball Era into the reign of Babe Ruth. And while the home run’s supremacy in MLB has ebbed and flowed over time, the ability to crush a baseball has always been valuable.

Of course, power could be judged multiple ways. There’s raw power, the kind that might let a hitter with incredible strength put on an awe-inspiring batting practice display. Then there’s the more useful sort of power that a hitter is actually able to translate into game situations. Plenty of “Quad-A” sluggers over the years have had the former but not enough of the latter.

That’s not an issue for these five picks:

Joey Gallo, RF, Rangers
Key stat: 11.1% barrel/PA rate since 2017

Gallo isn’t a perfect player. But if we’re isolating power, then give me the guy who turns everything into doubles and homers (so long as his bat touches the ball). Across the last three seasons, Gallo ranks among baseball’s top five hitters in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, average distance on fly balls and line drives and expected slugging -- based on quality of contact -- on balls in play.

But perhaps Gallo’s best trait of all is his preternatural ability to barrel up baseballs, thus launching them with the force and trajectory that most often translates to extra bases. A Major League-most 11.1% of Gallo’s plate appearances since 2017 have seen him wallop those barrels, conveniently aligning with Gallo’s McGwire-esque 11.6 at-bat per homer rate in that span. If my player can pair Mookie Betts’ discipline and contact ability with Gallo’s prodigious strength, pitchers don’t have a chance.

-- Matt Kelly

Previous pick: Betts (hit)

Aaron Judge, RF, Yankees
Key stat: 16 HR hit 115+ mph, 11 HR hit 450+ feet

Judge has true top-of-the-scale power. I once witnessed him hit a baseball clear over the Yankee Stadium left-field bleachers. It's the most impressive physical feat I've seen on a baseball field.

Judge has five of the top 10 home run exit velocities in MLB since Statcast started tracking. He's hit 16 home runs 115 mph or harder since his 2017 breakout, most of any hitter. That's the absolute extreme end of exit velocity. Giancarlo Stanton is second with 15; no one else is in double digits. Judge has also hit 11 homers 450-plus feet; that's just behind Stanton and Gallo, who have 13 apiece.

More than one in every five balls Judge has hit over the last three seasons has qualified as a barrel -- that means ideal contact, the balls most likely to be home runs. Judge's 21.1% barrel rate since 2017 ranks second in the Majors behind Gallo (23.1%), and no one else is above 20%. Judge has homered once every 12.6 at-bats since 2017, the third-best home run rate since 2017 behind Mike Trout and Gallo.

-- David Adler

Previous pick: DJ LeMahieu (hit)

Mike Trout, CF, Angels
Key stat: 419-foot average HR distance in 2019

Trout obviously was going to show up on one of these lists, and this is as good a place as any. While his speed and defense were louder tools in his younger days, he has worked relentlessly to improve what once was a subpar arm, and his hit tool is clearly strong, the power has been a calling card throughout his career and is only getting better.

Using that distinctively direct and vicious swing that pulverizes low pitches but can do damage just about anywhere, Trout hit a career-high 45 homers in only 134 games in 2019. He obviously hits the ball hard, and nobody personifies the concept of perfect launch angle quite like Trout, who was second among qualifiers last year in sweet spot rate. Few hitters produced barrels more efficiently (11% of plate appearances), and Trout also took his big flies to another level. After hitting 14 homers of at least 440 feet from 2015-18, Trout walloped 10 in ‘19 alone and led MLB (minimum 25 homers) in average distance.

-- Andrew Simon

Previous pick: Anthony Rendon (hit)

Gary Sánchez, C, Yankees
Key stat: 11.7% barrel/PA rate in 2019

He is Gary -- he hits the ball hard and he hits it far. In 2019, Sánchez surpassed the 100-homer plateau for his career. He did so in his 355th career game, becoming the second-fastest player by games in Major League history to 100 career home runs (behind Ryan Howard, who reached 100 in 325 games). So yes, he certainly has the power.

In 2019, he produced a barrel in 11.7 percent of his plate appearances, the second-highest such rate in the Majors. That tells us he was making strong, powerful contact. Further evidence to that point? His 19 home runs with a 110+ mph exit velocity were tied with Pete Alonso for most in the Majors last season.

He hit the ball far, too, with an average home run distance of 417 feet. Among all players to hit at least 25 homers last year, only Trout and Ronald Acuña Jr. had a longer average home run distance than El Gary.

-- Sarah Langs

Previous pick: Jeff McNeil (hit)

Nelson Cruz, DH, Twins
Key stat: Most barrels (312) in Statcast history (since 2015)

Even as he approaches age 40, Cruz remains one of the most feared sluggers in the game. In his first season with the Twins a year ago, the veteran crushed 41 home runs in just 120 games and produced a career-best 1.031 OPS with MLB’s second-highest expected slugging mark (.643). It was his sixth straight season with at least 37 homers and the fourth in that span with 40 or more.

It’s no surprise that Cruz has consistently ranked among the league leaders in dingers, given his ability to flat-out demolish baseballs. In Statcast history, half of Cruz’s batted balls have been hard hit (95+ mph exit velocity), and he has recorded more barrels -- batted balls with the optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle for producing extra-base hits -- than anyone else with 312.

-- Thomas Harrigan

Previous pick: Michael Brantley (hit)

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.