5 (or 6?) Tool Players: View at a cross section of young Cubs players though a scouting lens

5 (or 6?) Tool Players: View at a cross section of young Cubs players though a scouting lens

We've covered both starters and closers in this short series and today we'll discuss position players.  The final topic is "5 tool" players.  Those tools are:

  1. Hitting for average
  2. Hitting for power
  3. Speed
  4. Fielding
  5. Arm

We're talking players like Andre Dawson, or at least the younger one with good speed, but even the older Hawk was a plus baserunner because of his great instincts.  True 5 tool players are rare, even Hall of Famers like Ryne Sandberg don't really qualify, as Sandberg had an average arm at best.  The Cubs currently have no 5 tool players on their roster, though they have some hopefuls in the minors.

Because this is a new era in Cubs baseball, we should also consider what Theo Epstein calls "the 6th tool".  That "tool", plate discipline, is actually more of a skill but it can accentuate the first two tools on this list.  The first is more obvious as it a player can supplement his batting average with walks and increase his OBP, which is the more important stat, in my opinion.  The second tool it benefits is that hitters who have discipline are more likely to take pitcher's strikes that are difficult to drive and wait for a mistake they can hit for extra bases.

It should also be said that the importance of having 5 tools varies by position.  Although it's nice, you don't really need a catcher with speed or a first baseman with a great arm, for example.  For a LF, fielding is less important than it is for a CF while on the other hand, it's more important to get power out of your LF'er than your CF'er.  Of course, you'll take power and defense wherever you can get it, but it's difficult to find a true power hitter who is fleet enough to be a plus defender in CF, as the young Andre Dawson was.  You sacrifice power for defense in CF if you have to and LF is where you can hide a player who is not a plus outfielder as long as he can make up some value with his offense.  We saw this early on in Alfonso Soriano's career with the Cubs.

Because these are all young players, the emphasis here is on projection and long term potential.

So after that lengthy introduction, here is a diverse cross-section of 8 Cubs players and how they measure up.  While Dick Van Patten may disagree with me here, 8 isn't really enough. But, since I'm not trying to write a novella here, that will be my limit.  I'll try to mention other interesting players along the way...

Starlin Castro

  • Average: Yes, this is his greatest single tool.
  • Power: Not yet, but it's developing.  He should have above average power for a SS, if he doesn't already (8th best ISO for a SS in 2012).  He could be a 40 double, 20+ HR guy before all is said and done.  That would easily put him in the plus category for any position.
  • Speed: Yes and No. He doesn't time well, but he shows plus speed in games.  Despite his SBs, Castro isn't a burner. Overall, he's an average to slightly above runner for now, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the speed go down as the power increases.
  • Fielding: Yes.  He already has shown flashes of being a plus defender, but a poor start and a so-so finish left him right around average.  In the end, I think he'll be a consistent plus if he doesn't continue to grow and lose range.
  • Arm: Yes. Castro has enough gun to throw runners out from deep in the hole.
  • Plate Discipline: No, but it did show some signs of improvement in the 2nd half last season.  There's hope, but Castro has to do it consistently and over a larger sample before anyone is convinced.

Comment: Castro is on the cusp of having above average tools across the board for a SS, but I can only say with confidence right now that he has two solid plus tools.  I think as he matures physically, power is next, but it may come at the expense of speed, and possibly his range at SS.

Anthony Rizzo

  • Average: Yes.  I think his shortened swing, improvement vs. lefties, and hitting the ball the other way will help him hit around 280.
  • Power: Yes.  Rizzo is a potential 30 HR player.
  • Speed: No.  Rizzo is pretty slow but not too many teams have speedy 1Bs, if they did, they'd probably be OF'ers.
  • Fielding: Yes. Rizzo has soft hands and improved lateral movement at 1B.
  • Arm: Yes, actually. Not an important tool for 1B but Rizzo has a good arm when he needs it.
  • Plate Discipline: Yes. Showed some in the minors, especially with Padres, but it wasn't a plus last year.  I think it will be long term.

Comment:  Rizzo is a good all-around first baseman with his plus power being a great asset.  He won't win batting titles, but he's not going to hit .250 either. .270-.280 should be the norm with good power and excellent defense.  I think he will add plate discipline as he matures.  He has  a more balanced skill set than prospect Dan Vogelbach, but 80 power can cover a lot of imperfections.

Welington Castillo

  • Average: No.  I don't think Castillo will hit for average. Maybe a .250-.260 guy.
  • Power: Yes.  Castillo shows 20 HR potential, which is a nice asset considering his position.
  • Speed: No. Like most catchers, Castillo is slow-footed.
  • Fielding: Not yet. The raw skills are there and I'd say with hard work  Castillo has made himself an average receiver, but there's still upside.
  • Arm: Yes. It is Castillo's single best tool.  The Cubs probably haven't had an arm like this behind the plate since Steve Lake.
  • Plate Discipline: Yes. Castillo has transformed himself from an aggressive hitter to one with solid discipline.

Comment: Castillo is "toolsy" for a catcher, meaning he has power, athleticism behind the dish, and the ability to control a running game.  The Buster Posey's and Yadier Molina's of the world are rare, so there are a lot of teams who would love to have a young catcher with Castillo's skill set.

Brett Jackson

  • Average: No.  Jackson hits the ball hard and runs well, so he'll always have a high BABIP, but he won't make enough contact to translate that to a high bating average.
  • Power: Yes.  Jackson has 25 HR potential with a slew of doubles and triples thrown in.
  • Speed: Yes. Jackson is a plus runner who is capable of stealing 20 and being an asset on the bases and in CF.
  • Fielding: Yes. Jackson has the range to cover CF and the aggression to go after everything catchable.
  • Arm: Almost. It's an average arm but will play well in CF or LF.
  • Plate Discipline: Yes. He'll still swing at some pitches outside the zone, but Jackson will draw a lot of walks with his patience.

Comment: Jackson is an athletic toolsy player who will likely have a below average hit tool. For those that don't think batting average is important anymore, it's the lack of that one tool that threatens to undermine Jackson's career as a solid, everyday player at a premium position.  WIth Jackson's ability to take walks along with all of his other tools, however, you can easily get by if he hits around .250.  He's a different sort of player than the Cubs other upper level MLB CF prospect, Matt Szczur.  Szczur is athletic and has even better speed, but he won't hit for much power, even extra base power, until he make some adjustments with is swing.  He was working on exactly that this fall.

Javier Baez

  • Average:  Yes. Baez should hit for average once he gains discipline and adjusts his approach. He hit for average in Peoria because of his great natural contact skills, but also because the pitchers there weren't good enough to exploit his aggression at the plate.
  • Power: Yes. Baez is capable of launching some pretty impressive HRs to any part of any ballpark.
  • Speed: Yes and no. Like Castro he's an average runner but Baez has great instincts on the base paths.
  • Fielding: Yes. His actions aren't as natural and fluid as Castro's or fellow SS prospect Marco Hernandez, but his great instincts more than make up for it.
  • Arm:  Yes. Baez has a great arm that will play anywhere on the field.
  • Plate Discipline: No.  Baez swings -- and swings hard -- at just about everything.  It's the one area where he needs to improve.

Comment: Baez is a potential 5 tool player with 3 of those tools (avg., power, arm)  being in the plus-plus category.  If he winds up at 3B, I think you can probably call it 4 plus-plus tools with the 5th, speed, being around average -- yet could be a plus because of his instincts.  The biggest question with Baez is that so-called 6th tool, that plate discipline, but the Cubs will keep him working on it and hope it improves with maturity.

Albert Almora

  • Average: Yes. Almora had the smoothiest, prettiest swing I saw during my time in AZ.  He makes contact very easily.
  • Power: Yes. Athough he has to lengthen his swing right now to hit HRs, he should hit them more naturally as he fills out, possibly as many as 15 to 20.
  • Speed: Yes and No.  He's in the same category as Baez and Castro here.
  • Fielding: Yes. Almora is a potential Gold Glove CFer. He makes up for less than ideal speed with great instincts.
  • Arm: Yes.  Almora's arm grades as above MLB average.
  • Plate Discipline: Yes...eventually. He worked on this in instructs.  He realizes he doesn't walk enough, but part of that is he has no problem making contact at the levels in which he has played so far.  He's not a free swinger and understands the strike zone, so I think he'll have at least an average walk rate as he moves up.

Comment:  Pretty close to being a 5 tool player with HR power the biggest question.  At worst, you have yourself a plus defender who will hit for average and extra base power.  There's a pretty high floor here.

Jorge Soler

  • Average: Yes. Though that is projection. He has quick hands, giving him the ability to adjust late.  Soler should hit for a solid average.
  • Power: Yes.  He rivals Vogelbach and Baez for the best power in the system.  It's at least a 70 on the scouting scale.
  • Speed: No. He's a bit of a long strider and takes time to get to full speed, but he's above average underway.  I think he'll be average when all is said and done.  I'm thinking Tyler Colvin sort of speed after he fills out, and that is plenty for a RF'er and middle of the lineup guy.
  • Fielding: Yes. Potentially. Not now, though. He has that long stride, so he'll have to get better jumps to compensate.
  • Arm: Yes. Soler has good arm strength, though he needs to work on consistency and accuracy.
  • Plate Discipline: Yes. Soler has good strike zone awareness and pitch recognition skills.  If he becomes the kind of hitter we expect him to be, pitchers will pitch around him and he'll have the discipline to translate that into walks.

Comment:  One scout said Soler has the potential to be a "monster" and his HR in Kane County was exhibit A.  He's athletic and has the potential to have 4 plus tools with speed being the lone exception, but that has a chance to be average and, as mentioned, plenty enough for RF.

Junior Lake

  • Average: No. Lake makes hard contact and runs well, but I don't see him hitting for average in the big leagues.
  • Power: Yes. But it's projection. Lake is naturally stronger than Castro and now has outgrown him by a wide margin.  Power may ultimately be what determines Lake's viability as a starter.
  • Speed: Yes. For now.  He could slow down some as he fills out his now 6'4" frame, but he should maintain at least average speed.
  • Fielding: No.  Not at SS, so he'll have to move.  He has the athleticism and arm strength to play any position on the field. Potentially a plus 3B or OF'er, however.
  • Arm. Yes. If Castro has a gun at SS, then Lake has a howitzer. Best Cubs SS arm since Shawon Dunston the elder. Along with Vogelbach's power, perhaps the single best tool in the Cubs system.
  • Plate discipline: No, but improving.  He was right around league average last year, though I don't expect he'll sustain that in the MLB.

Comment: Lake defines what scouts mean as a "raw, toolsy" player.  The question with Lake isn't physical ability or even his mental makeup, it's whether he has the natural instincts to make use of them and turn them into consistent, usable baseball skills.  As a contrast, a different Cubs SS, Marco Hernandez, is not quite as toolsy, but he does have average to above average tools across the board and superior natural instincts.


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  • fb_avatar

    Interesting way of looking at use the same categories for the most part that BA uses, though I like that 20-80 scale because it gives you an idea of what the real upside is.

    It points out that Rizzo is not really spectacular in any one category, but very solid all around. I was impressed last year with his plate discipline; even when his power slumped, he could still grind out base hits.

    I am a Brett Jackson skeptic, and I want to like him, because he does have so many tools. Just that one problem........

  • In reply to Zonk:

    It's not just BAs system, it's the basic scouting system when it comes to tools. Everyone rates the same tools and everyone uses the same scouting system, though some use 2-8 rather than 20-80 but that's the same thing.

    Numbers convey the same basic infom but I thought an explanation to thought process would be more interesting. But I do understand why some like the numbers better. It's concise and it gives you a basic point of comparison/reference.

    When I talk about average we're talking about a 50.. 80 is top of the scale -- and rare. I'd give that to Vogs (power) and Lake (arm) right now. Soler and Baez may have 70 power, and Baez may have a 70 hit tool. Other than that we're talking somewhere between 55-60 for most of the other "above average" tools on this list,though Almora may have a 65 hit tool and 65 defense

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    ditto for me on you using the 20-80 numbers a bit more, for reference. i love the explanations but 20-80 helps as a side note

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    Thanks for the feedback, I'll do that in the future then, at least for the tools that stand out as mentioned above in the reply to Zonk.

  • They have to update castro's bio because castro looks taller than six feet and one hundred and ninety pounds.John the guy that has me excited is soler, that kid looks like he could be a big part of that nucleus that theo talks about.Is there any talk about the national league bring in the DH, I'm kind of torn because I like the national league the way it is but I also want Dan Vogelbach to stay with the cubs.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Id be thrilled if they brought the DH in. Not just because of Vogelbach, but it's just not the same game today. It's more advanced and you don't have pitchers who can step in with minimal batting practice and make much of a difference with the bat anymore.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I hate the DH and think it takes away from the game. AL games are boring, there is no late inning strategy, virtually no pinch hitting, and the DH's are always one dimensional players that wouldn't be on any roster if it weren't for the DH. If anything, get rid of it in the AL.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    I agree, but the AL will never get rid of the DH.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    I understand the strategy aspect, but I still have to watch bad baseball whenever the pitcher comes to bat the first couple times in a game. Choosing a pinch hitter or the double switch isn't enough to compensate for me.

  • Great series John. This is why I visit your site.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks Toby!

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SFToby:

    Ditto. That and the free beer.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    If you're ever out in Oak Park, I'll buy you that beer :)

  • Good stuff. I'm looking forward to seeing a full year's numbers out of Beef and Rizzo. Maybe some AB's out of Lake too when the roster expands, though I'm guessing he'll need a year at AAA before he's really ready.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Thanks Carne. Looking forward to that too, though I feel Beef's average will drop with full time play.

  • fb_avatar

    Great analysis John!
    Your early point about many HOF'ers not even having the five tools is dead-on. Barry Bonds showed the six tools (even before the "era") but maybe Mays and Dawson are the only guys I can think of that I saw play who would qualify.
    I think if the group you listed develops as expected, they would be a strong core even if some didn't reach full potential.
    Jackson may not ever hit for average, but his other tools could more than make up for it. Same thought on the others...if they only show 2 or 3 above avg. tools the Cubs will be in good shape!

  • In reply to AdolphoPhillips67:

    Thanks Adolpho!

    I tried to take a diverse cross section of players. I left off guys that I thought were better prospects, but not as interesting to look at from a tools perspective. But these are the kind of players you want to build with, guys that can help you in many areas.

  • Excellent article, as always, John. I really think this will be the watershed year for Lake. Either he breaks out as a top prospect or he becomes merely a good one.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Steve Flores:

    ......or becomes the next Jose Macias. I don't think Junior Lake is ticketed for stardom; he's toolsy, but gets nothing done consistently.

    I hope I am wrong and eat my words, but I don't think he'll be anything more than a fringy backup. Jeff Baker, with less discipline and a better arm.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    Jose Macias is up there with Neifi Perez in players that Cubs fans don't like to speak about lol

  • In reply to Zonk:

    There's a good chance Lake never really makes it, but he has more physical skills than either of those players. The ceiling is higher, but no doubt there's a chance he never gets over the hump as a hitter.

    He keeps hitting at higher levels, though, so he keeps proving himself -- and I have to say that I think even that many of his biggest critics in the media have softened their stance on him now. I know one respected talent evaluator who actually likes him quite a bit.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Lake can even wash out completely. Such a wide range with him, but he's still interesting because of those tools.

  • Thanks for all the work you put into this, John. These guys are all exciting prospects and it'll be more than just a little interesting to see how our new coaching staff and development plan works with these guys. Some could be even better than we might expect if the plan takes hold.

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    You're welcome! Development will be the key. They certainly have players with enough tools.

  • I was thinking of the best 5-Tool players that I saw in my lifetime......I saw Willie Mays play, but it was at the end of his career.....and he struggled.....Dawson was a 5-tool player with the Expos, but not with the Cubs.....lost his speed by me, it was Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield and Ken Griffey Jr in their prime......maybe I think of someone else.

  • I remember Sandberg's arm being reasonably strong and 5 tool accurate. He would go into the hole between ss and 2b and throw out pretty quick runners routinely. It seemed like he could dive for a hit ball without leaving his feet and throw that one hop bounce to Grace in one motion. He was also outstanding as a cutoff man. I give at least a 4.

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