Vlad, hands down, top player in league

Since scouting became popular in the 1950s, every team has sought the “five-tool” player. Being able to hit for average and power, have speed, arm strength and fielding ability are the hallmarks that make a complete player.

Vladimir Guerrero of the Los Angeles Angels is the best personification of a five-tool player since Willie Mays.

He can hit for average – he has never batted below .300 in a full season. Since 1998, he has hit at least 25 home runs every year, registered over 35 steals twice, has the most powerful arm of any outfielder and an unbelievable .963 career fielding percentage.

Simply put, runners never get an extra base on Guerrero and no pitcher can consistently stop him.

Guerrero has no weak spots in his swing. During this year’s All-Star Game, he proved why he is the best bad-ball hitter in the game. Pitcher Brad Penny threw a 98-mph fastball at eye level and Guerrero slapped it for an opposite-field home run.

No player since Yogi Berra could hit pitches equally well off his shoelaces, at eye level, reaching across the plate or taking a short stab at the ball. Guerrero can take any pitch at any speed anywhere over the plate and drive it over the fence.

Guerrero, 30, has also enjoyed an exceptional career. With 325 home runs he Guerrero could easily be regarded as the most feared slugger in the American League.

On Saturday, he solidified his status as one of this generation’s best. Sitting on 999 career RBI, Guerrero wasted no time driving in No. 1,000 against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. During the bottom of the first with a runner on second, he lined a single to left field and became the seventh fastest active player to reach the milestone.

Later in the game, Guerrero clinched the win by launching a seventh-inning grand slam en route to a 9-2 victory over the Rays.

Saturday’s game was reflective of Guerrero’s career: quiet, with a stellar production early on followed by an incredible display to secure the victory.

Guerrero began his career with the Montreal Expos and was easily the most overlooked player in the majors. For eight seasons he displayed each of his incredible five tools in an empty Olympic Stadium.

In 2000, he made the world take notice of his skills. Guerrero hit .345, slugged 44 homeruns and drove in 123 runs. His tremendous season only resulted in a sixth-place finish on the MVP ballot. Since the Expos finished with a 67-95 record his accomplishments were short-changed. Only Andre Dawson in 1987 and Alex Rodriguez in 2003 have won the MVP on a last-place team.

After the 2003 season, Guerrero became the hottest free agent to hit the market. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were throwing millions of dollars at him to join their club. After weighing his options, he decided to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

During his first year with the Angels, Guerrero single-handedly carried the team to the post season. During the month of September, Guerrero launched 10 home runs, drove in 23 runs and batted .371. His late-season heroics led to the AL MVP award.

This season Guerrero is again putting up impressive numbers. After 80 games, he is batting .306 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI. He is the lone reason why the Angels are still alive in the AL West race.

But Guerrero isn’t perfect. In two playoff campaigns, he has hit only .180 with a home run and seven RBI. This postseason – if there is one for the Angels – he has to do better than that and bring out his tools in October.