Everyone that reads almost anything I write or listens to my podcast with my buddy Chris, Bucs in The Basement, knows that I am a prospect junkie. Today I am going to step out of my element a little bit, but I am going to take a part of my passion with me. In the prospect world a player is judged by their abilities or potential according to 5 specific tools; 1) Hitting 2) Power 3) Running/Speed 4) Fielding and 5) Throwing/Arm Strength. To be considered a “Five Tool Player” you would need to be assessed as above average to elite in each of these areas; scoring a 55 to 80 on the scouting scale.
In Major League Baseball there are probably 3 to 5 positions players at any given time that are considered Five Tool Players, which would mean that out of almost 400 players there are only a few guys that fit into this category and it could be the same players for years at a time. So taking that into consideration, in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates, going back to 1882, how many players of this caliber existed within the organization? In the past 138 years there are probably a lot. However, I am going to attempt to narrow it down to just 5. This is an almost impossible challenge, which I am sure not everyone will agree upon, but that is the fun imbedded in a discussion such as this. Without further adieu, here are my top 5 Five Tool Players in Pittsburgh Pirates History.
5) Andrew McCutchen
Hit: A career .291 hitter with the Pirates, McCutchen led the NL in hits with 194 in 2012 and had an average over .314 three years in a row between 2012 and 2014; winning the NL MVP in 2013. Power: A career .480 slugger (.487 with the Pirates) and 7 straight years of 20+ Homers, topping out at 31 in 2012, Cutch also hit 292 Doubles in 9 years. He was a 4 time Silver Slugger Award Winner as well. Run/Speed: The first time I saw McCutchen run the bases at PNC Park it was almost like he was effortlessly floating from home to third. Compiling 20+ Stolen Bases for the first 5 years of his career (187 Total), he always had the green and could have had more of if he took advantage of every opportunity. Field: The active leader in MLB in both errors committed (37) and putouts (2,954) as a centerfielder, he boasts a career .988 fielding percentage. Throw/Arm: The active leader in career outfield assists (63) and in the top 10 in double plays (16) from center, I believe that this was a sometimes overlooked strength in his time with the Pirates.
4) Ralph Kiner
Hit: In his 8 years as a Pittsburgh Pirates, Kiner was a .280 hitter, with three years over .300. He led the NL in RBIs (127) in 1949 and was in the top 5 six years in a row between 1946 and 1951. Power: Kiner led the NL in Homers for 7 consecutive years, totaling over 40 five times and over 50 twice. He would hit 301 in his time in a Pirates uniform. Run/Speed: When you hit as many homers as Kiner, you rarely have the opportunity to show off your potential speed. He did have the opportunity/ability to leg out 32 triples and led the NL in range factor/game twice, landing in the top 5 six times as a left fielder. Field: He led the NL twice in putouts as a left fielder and is 30th overall in the history of the game with 2,546. His fielding percentage for the time was one of the best in the NL, as he finished in the top 5 seven years in a row, coming in first in 1948. Throw/Arm: His 73 career assists as a left fielder has him listed as 64th all-time. He also ranked first in the NL in outfield double plays twice in 1949 and 1950.
3) Honus Wagner
Hit: A career .328 hitter, Wagner led the NL in batting average a total of 8 times, topping out at .381 in 1900. He is also 8th all-time in hits with 3,420 and led the league in RBIs 4 times. Power: Homers were not really a big part of the game during his time, but doubles sure were. He led the NL in doubles on 7 occasions, producing 30 or more in 14 seasons. He holds a career .467 slugging percentage, leading the NL 6 times. /Run/Speed: Wagner is 10th on the career rankings for stolen bases (723). He led the NL in 5 seasons, having his best year in 1907; swiping 61 bases. Field: One of the best shortstops in the game at the time, he had a career .940 fielding percentage (#1 in the NL 4 years in a row) and was a part of an astonishing 766 double plays. Throw/Arm: 6,041 total assists as a shortstop, which is 23rd on the list. If I threw the ball that many times I am pretty sure my arm would fall off, but Honus’ just kept on getting stronger.
2) Barry Bonds
Hit: After his first 4 years in the league Bonds started to hit his stride in 1990, on his way to becoming one of the most formidable batters in baseball history. From 1990 to 1992 he had 100+ RBIs, batted around .300 and got on base at league leading rates (.410, .456 and .458). Power: Even prior to his years in San Francisco his power was evident by him hitting an average of 25 homers a year, leading the NL in slugging percentage twice in 1990 (.565) and 1992 (.624) and 3 straight Silver Slugger Awards. Bonds also hit 220 doubles in his time with the Pirates. Run/Speed: Barry totaled 251 stolen bases in 7 seasons, peaking at 52 stolen bases in 1990. He also tallied 36 triples, hitting no less than 3 in a single year. Field: 8 straight Gold Gloves, including his last 3 three years in Pittsburgh. The most career putouts of all time (5,226) by a left fielder is more than impressive. Add in the fact that he had less than 6 errors a year in his time with the Pirates and a .984 fielding percentage and he was the total package as a fielder. Throw/Arm: He led the NL in assists as a left fielder in 1989 (14), 1990 (14) and 1991 (13). He has also turned a total of 22 double plays from the outfield.
1) Roberto Clemente
Hit: Clemente had a career .317 average and 3,000 hits, including a league leading 211 hits (1964) and 209 (1967). He also won the batting title 4 times in 1961, 1964, 1965 and 1967. Power: A lifetime .475 slugger, his power was exhibited in different ways throughout his career. He hit double digit homers the last 13 years of his career; 29 in 1966 being the highest yearly total. He also hit an average of 29 doubles a year over 18 years. Run/Speed: He did not steal many bases, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t; he just didn’t really try that often. He was in the top 10 in triples 14 times, leading the league in 1969 (12). He is in the top 30 all-time with a total of 166. Field: 12 Straight Gold Glove Awards, #3 on the all-time errors list with 131 and a lifetime .973 fielding percentage. Nothing else needs to be said. Throw/Arm: If you hit a sharp single to right field, you better run it out or Clemente would come up firing. He is #2 in the history of the game with 255 career assists and #10 with 40 double plays as a right fielder.
It is undeniable that each of these Pirates were 5 Tool Players. However, there could be some debate as to the order they fall in or if another Pirates Legend could supplant one (or two) of the players on my list. That’s half the fun in writing articles such as these; the debates that always follow.