The five-tool outfield prospect—that athletically gifted player with the ability to hit for average and power, run, field and throw—is among baseball's most valued and rare commodities, but rarer is the prospect who can effectively deploy all five of those tools once he reaches the majors. In recent years can't-miss five-toolers such as Corey Patterson and Alex Escobar have missed badly at the big league level, and this season several of their younger counterparts, including the Nationals' Lastings Milledge and the Marlins' Cameron Maybin, have floundered. "Sometimes those five-tool players evolve into two- or three-tool players, and you're delighted to have them," says Orioles G.M. Andy MacPhail. That's why MacPhail is thrilled ("beyond my wildest expectations," he says) by the early performance of his club's own five-tooler, centerfielder Adam Jones.
This is an article from the May 18, 2009 issue
Jones won't turn 24 until August, but he's emerged as one of the most fearsome all-around threats in the AL. Through Sunday he ranked fourth in batting average (.358), fifth in slugging percentage (.625) and was tied for first in runs scored (33) and outfield assists (three). He could easily have more than his current three stolen bases, but he's smart enough to know that attempting to swipe bags is often not worth the risk in a lineup that has two of the league's top RBI men (Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff) hitting behind him. "I want to run," he says, "but I understand that I'm in scoring position for both those guys when I'm on first base."
That recognition is part of a maturity that belies Jones's age and arises, says his half brother Anson Wright, from an upbringing in difficult circumstances in San Diego. "He probably looks a little bit older than he is when he's playing the game," says Wright, who works as a counselor to teenagers in Phoenix-area group homes. "That comes from growing up in the ghetto. When you think about San Diego, you're going to think about the beaches and the palm trees, and all of that is there. But it's like any other city, and it has its rougher areas. The park that we used to play in was dope-infested. A lot of people he grew up with are dead."
Jones focused his attention on sports, first basketball and football, and then, at age 12, baseball. By the time he was a high school senior, in 2002, he had developed into a prospect as both a hitter and a pitcher (his fastball was clocked at 96 mph). He also dealt with college recruiters and pro scouts largely on his own. As a senior Jones moved in with Wright, who's three years older, so that he could complete his career at San Diego's Morse High. "I'd come home, and it would look like a press conference was going on in my living room," says Wright. "Even then, he was in control."
Command of every situation? Perhaps that's a sixth tool.
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The Giants' Bengie Molina will never be mistaken for his former teammate Barry Bonds: Through Sunday, Molina (below) had yet to draw a walk in 110 at bats in '09. The veteran catcher has never been patient at the plate, with just 171 career walks in more than 4,300 plate appearances and a season high of 27. But he's been productive this year in spite of the lack of bases on balls. His .555 slugging percentage makes up for a measly .289 OBP that's two points below his batting average, and he leads all major league catchers with 27 RBIs. Molina, however, has a ways to go to make history. Since 1972 the record for most walkless at bats to start a season is 259, set by Rob Picciolo of the A's in 1980. Bengie has topped the family record (104 at bats), though, set by brother Jose in 2003.