The ideal baseball player has five tools in his arsenal: elite speed, hitting that is both consistent and powerful, nimble fielding ability, and arm strength.
There aren’t too many players who have all five tools—but when that happens, it sure is special. Players like Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Andre Dawson, Bo Jackson, Dave Winfield, and Derek Jeter could do just about everything well, and it showed.
For any young emerging player, striving to obtain the five tools is certainly a way to get a leg up on the competition. It isn’t attainable for everyone, but that doesn't mean you can't improve on your natural ability—because you can.
“Honestly, it takes a rare breed for it to happen,” says Leslie Eddins, who served as personal trainer to catcher Jason Varitek during his entire career with the Boston Red Sox. “Still, training is so much different today than it used to be. Players put so much work into the offseason, you could just tell at spring training. If you apply yourself in the offseason, you will get results.” And by applying yourself, Eddins means engaging in the necessary training drills it takes to get the required skills.
So before you’re ready to proclaim yourself the next five-tool star, make sure you do these tips and drills for all five of the illustrious tools, compliments of a pro trainer who’s seen his fair share of talent in the
Tool 1: The Workout for a Cannon Arm
“Being able to keep runners from taking extra bases, and out of scoring position, is a physical advantage every players wants,” says Eddins. “It’s also a mental advantage as well.”
A variation of push-ups, aided with a medicine ball, is great for building up a strong upper body. Start off with your arms shoulder-width apart with one hand on the ball, alternating side to side.
Immediately after, do some overhead wall ball throws, with your feet spread apart using a (8-12 pound) ball. Use both hands and keep the ball above your head at all times.
Starting Out: Upper-Body Strength
Alternating one-arm push-ups: 3 x 8-12 reps
Overhead wall ball throws: 3 x 15 reps
Skill Work: Long Toss
To increase your distance throwing, long toss is considered one of the best drills to build arm strength. The following is a three-week program keyed on increasing distance:
Week 1 (Throw 3 times per week)
1. 3 minutes at 60 feet Rest 3-5 minutes
2. 3 minutes at 75 feet with a crow hop
Week 2 (Throw 3 times per week)
1. 3 minutes at 60 feet
2. 3 minutes at 75 feet with a crow hop
3. 3 minutes at 90 feet with a crow hop. Rest 3-5 minutes between sets
Week 3 (Monday and Friday)
1. 3 minutes at 60 feet
2. 4 minutes at 75 feet with a crow hop
3. 3 minutes at 120 feet with a crow hop (Tuesday and Thursday) 45-180 feet x 12 minutes (Wednesday) 45-90 feet x 10 minutes
Tool 2: The Workout for Elite Footspeed
“Speed is a valuable tool, not only for baserunning, but on defense,” says Eddins. “Speed allows you to take extra bases and make hard plays look easy. First step quickness is vital to stealing a base or running down a ball.”
To attain elite speed and quickness, lower body training along with resistance running is the key. To build those legs, do one-legged squats using dumbbells.
Place one foot behind you on a bench and, holding the dumbbells, squat down parallel. Follow this with split jumps (no break, aka supersetting), in which you jump straight up, front foot landing heel first while keeping your front knee behind your toes.
Starting Out: Leg Strength
One-legged squats: 3 x 8 reps with dumbbells
Split jumps: 3 x 10 reps.
For resistance running, here is a program for treadmill sprints.
Skill Work: Treadmill sprints
1. Run 15 seconds rest 30 seconds - Run 15 seconds rest 1 minute (incline 11, speed 10)
2. Run 15 seconds rest 30 seconds - Run 15 seconds rest 1 minute (incline 12, speed 10.5)
3. Run 15 seconds rest 30 seconds - Run 15 seconds rest 1 minute (incline 13, speed 11)
4. Run 15 seconds rest 30 seconds - Run 15 seconds rest 1 minute (incline 14, speed 11.5)
5. Run 15 seconds rest 30 seconds - Run 15 seconds (incline 15, speed 12)
Tool 3: The Workout for a Golden Glove
“Knowing where to position yourself against opposing hitters will help you make tough plays look simple,” says Eddins. “By taking lots of ground balls and fly balls, you can increase your strength at a position. Being able to play other positions will also increase your value as a player.”
Good foot speed and body control are critical in becoming an elite fielder, so agility ladder drills will benefit you at any position. You can bring the slats together for short, quick stepping drills or adjust further away for long stride drills.
Skill Work: Lateral and linear rapid foot strikes
1. Timed left to right lateral ladder drills with 15 yard sprints to-and-from x 2 sets
2. Timed right to left lateral ladder drills with 15 yard sprints to-and-from x 2 sets
Tool 4: The Workout for Consistent Hitting
“Hitting for average is probably one of the most beneficial tools, because in order to score runs you must get on base,” says Eddins. “Being able to hit to all fields and having excellent pitch selection at the plate is crucial. Most players with a high average hit the ball hard and often.”
To be a great gap hitter, balance training along with core work is the recipe to that sweet stroke. The exercise combo of choice is single leg/single arm rows coupled with kneeling cable chops.
MLB first baseman Adrian Gonzalez also offers a tip to perfecting your swing. "Just hit off the tee," he says of his personal favorite drill. "It’s the most underrated thing you can do, and it’s the best thing you can do to improve your swing."
Strength Builder: Rotational Motion
1. Bent over single leg/single arm rows with kneeling cable chops x 3 sets.
For the rows, hold the dumbbell opposite to your planted leg and bend over in a 45-degree angle with your other leg straight out. Slowly bring the dumbbell straight up and then down, while balanced.
For the cable chops, start with one knee up and the other knee on the ground with the top of the planted foot flat. Squeeze your glutes (it helps stretch your hip flexors), and pull the cable (on your kneeling side) to your chest, elbows to the side, and extend the tricep.
Tool 5: The Workout for Power Hitting
"Clearly, hitting for power means lots of extra bases along with home runs,” says Eddins. “Being able to have tremendous bat speed along with overall body strength produces a lot of homeruns, which everyone loves to see.”
While many are quick to look at arm strength, lower body rotation training enables a lot of bat speed, and hence, consistent power.
Squats: 3 sets x 10 reps, adding weight each set
For squats, use a barbell placed on your traps while pinching the scapula together, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and bend at the hips and knees until parallel to the ground. Drive straight up with heels to the floor.
Medicine ball squat jumps: 3 sets x 10 reps
Follow up with medicine ball squat jumps, with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the medicine ball with both hands to your chest. Squat parallel and jump straight up, pushing the medicine ball to the ceiling.
Rotational medicine ball throws: 3 sets x 15 reps
Bonus: Tool 6 - Nutrition
“Along with training and drills, one of the most important parts is nutrition,” says Eddins.
“Fueling your body with enough protein to keep your muscles full and to endure the hectic training and the long baseball season is crucial. While playing and training you are always tearing down your muscles. Using carbs and fats for energy and protein for muscle will help prevent injury and hopefully keep you on the field.”