Become a 5-Tool Prospect

Becoming a 5-Tool Prospect

  • November 16, 2015 /

Everybody knows about the five tools and wants to excel at the big two: hitting for contact and hitting for power. However, as you advance in baseball, the premium on the other three tools increase. If you’re serious about playing at the next level, your defense deserves just as much attention in your training as your performance at the plate. It may not be sexy to field a thousand ground balls or work on fielding and baserunning footwork, but find me someone who doesn’t go full blown “heart eyes” emoji watching guys like Andrelton Simmons and Manny Machado play defense.machado manny-nod-nelly

If you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you love to watch baseball. Most recently, the New York Mets and the right side of their infield. Hitting for power (a.k.a. Daniel Murphy) led them to the World Series, but defense cost them dearly once they got there. Having a few tools may get you near the pinnacle, but it will not get you to the Promised Land. It’s also worth noting that the Royals put themselves in the position to tie and win ballgames with aggressive base running by Cain, Dyson and Hosmer.

What a lot of younger players don’t understand, and older players wished they had found out sooner, is that defense, speed, and base running are also where you separate yourself as a prospect.

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Good aggressive baserunning by Hosmer

You’re always evaluated relative to your position on the field, and high skill defenders will always be at a premium. As you advance and competition gets weeded out, there is less room for ineptitude on defense. The low-skill positions get crowded by the best of the best hitters, i.e. you have to hit a lot more home runs to advance as a first basemen than as a third basemen in the minor leagues. Unless your name is David Ortiz, you can’t afford to be a liability on defense.

The take away point is that making yourself versatile and skilled on defense is going to increase your value as a player and prospect. Smart players and smart training programs will take advantage of the opportunity to train an area that a lot of players take for granted.

All players can improve their defense at the position they play, as well as shore up areas that limit their versatility. While most players don’t make a drastic position change in the middle of their career, developing versatility can propel your career and fast track your progression among depth charts. For instance, Chicago Cubs rookie sensation Kris Bryant not only improved his defense to quiet doubters about his ability at the hot corner, but he took outfield reads during the offseason and Spring Training to give himself the greatest opportunity to be in the lineup daily. Most first basemen could probably learn to play the outfield with some work on their outfield skills and/or speed and arm strength. If you’re a second basemen, arm strength shouldn’t keep you from being able to play third base also. There are always areas in your game to strengthen, and it never hurts to be the best player on the team at multiple positions.

When it’s all said and done, defensive ability comes down to your fielding ability, speed, and arm strength.

1. Fielding

The number one way to improve this is during batting practice. Take live balls off the bat at your position and take every ball at game speed. If you have a pre-pitch routine, go through it during every batting practice pitch. Work on your reads and first step even when the ball isn’t hit to you. Treat both the easy plays and the diving plays like game situations.

For more work, stay after practice and field a hundred ground balls or practice outfield footwork. Get a teammate or a partner and take turns hitting fungos to each other or set up a pitching machine on the field to shoot grounds balls or fly balls. Be creative. All positions demand great footwork, which is something you can work on virtually anywhere, anytime. Don’t be afraid of practicing the skill plays either. You think Brandon Phillips doesn’t practice these…?072015_cin_phillips_play_med_efnjftt1

 

2. Speed

Your ability to run ties in with your defense. Being fast will make you a better defensive player and able to play more positions. Your speed and range in the field will determine whether you can play center field versus the corners, or shortstop versus third base. If you’re a high school player or headed to a pro tryout, your sixty-yard dash weighs heavily in your evaluation as a prospect.

Don’t buy into the old wives tale that you can’t improve your speed or explosiveness. Anybody and everybody should prioritize getting faster and more explosive in training.

Speed is a matter of how much force you put into the ground relative to how much you weigh. If you improve your lower body strength lifts and your body weight stays the same (or even if it increases slightly within the right musculature – glutes, hamstrings, mid-back, etc.), you can’t help but get faster. Add in sprinting workouts to focus on running form, and you’ve got the basis of a very good speed program covered.

When doing sprint workouts, keep these things in mind:

1) Get a stopwatch so that you’re getting feedback every sprint and you can determine whether you’re improving over time.

2) You want to run each sprint as fast as possible, in order to teach your body to run faster, so let yourself recover between sprints. Running slow when you’re winded will improve conditioning but not sprinting speed.

3) Focus on first-step quickness and short sprints. Both your range at your position and your sixty-yard dash depend more on the first ten yards than your top speed, so spend more time at ten to thirty yard distances than longer sprints.

Finally, if you’re serious about improving your speed, keep your body composition in mind. If you’re overweight, it means you’re wearing an unnecessary weight vest (why do you think offensive linemen 40 yard dash times are slower than skill positions?) In that case, losing body fat will improve your speed as faster than anything else you can do.

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3. Arm Strength

Arm strength is another defensive separator; the difference between a short stop and second baseman, or a right fielder and a left fielder. There’s no reason to be limited by either arm strength or arm accuracy.

If arm strength is a limitation, there’s no reason not to treat it with the diligence of a pitcher. If more and more research is showing velocity can be trained as a pitcher, why would it not hold true as a position player? Do long toss, including in the off-season, and assess your mechanics. Make sure your mobility and arm action are solid, and work on shoulder integrity in the weight room the same way a pitcher would.

Work on accuracy every time you play catch. A lot of throwing errors start with poor footwork, so increase focus in the right areas when playing catch, especially as distances increase. Notice whether your partner is having to stretch or chase after your throws or whether you can hit him in the chest with consistency.

Cultivate the mindset that your defense is just as important as your offense, and make it a priority to improve every day. You’ll only advance as far as your weakest area allows, and there’s no excuse in this day in age not to be training all five tools.

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