Free agent NBA guard Austin Rivers made waves in the sports media world when he appeared on the Pat McAfee Show and said he could take 30 players in the NBA and put them in the NFL right now instead of taking 30 NFL players and putting them in the NFL.

It created all sorts of meaningless debates surrounding all sorts of hypotheticals involving athleticism and physical prowess translating, skill vs. contact sport, and how long it takes for adjustments to occur that quite frankly is the epitome of comparing apples to oranges and is not a matter of superiority.

In the sport of baseball, it’s almost entirely a skill-based sport that involves so much practice and muscle memory that that’s why you see so many athletic freaks of other sports go out and try to throw a comical wind-up for a ceremonial fan first pitch, and it goes into the dirt or over the fence (50 Cent being the poster-child; we don’t care how many pull-ups you can do).

That’s why it’s so impeccable and unforeseen that two Los Angeles Dodgers players, in particular, are doing what they’re doing. Shohei Ohtani performing at an MVP level both pitching and hitting for two years is something we might never witness again, and even now, with his pitching arm being sidelined due to his Tommy John recovery, it’s only given him more time to focus on solely one side of the ball as a hitter and become maybe the best hitter in baseball to start the year, slashing .353/.423/.658 which leads the league in two of the three major categories.

Meanwhile, Mookie Betts was a 6x Gold Glove Award winner, playing in two different outfields. Just because he’s an athletic freak and genuinely one of the most team-first personalities in the game, the Dodgers just asked him, “Hey, Gavin Lux is kind of a weak point at shortstop, which is one of the most important fielding positions in the game and we’d like to improve there. Would you mind going out and learning that position entirely so we can maximize the lineup?”

To which Mookie replied by accepting the task and learning on the fly while also being the best leadoff man in the game. When you’re the Dodgers, you have the luxury of taking that calculated risk on Mookie.

So, not counting Mookie and Shohei, who would be some of the clear-cut answers, who are some of the other players that are the versatile, athletic-specimens, or 5-tool players that could step in and do whatever it is that you’re asking them to do? If you were building a lineup of 9 of just one player cloned, who would we build a team out of?

Here are some nominees that Austin Rivers may have some qualms with.

JT Realmuto // Philadelphia Phillies Catcher

Building a team of 9 Realmuto’s almost feels like a cheat code. Right off the bat, he would have the catching position covered as the likely most difficult transitional position to teach fielding. Still, he’s not your typical big-bodied, framing-only transitional catcher: he’s an athletic and offensive freak. Realmuto was a quarterback and a three-sport athlete with a 6’1 212 pound build that had the capability of stealing bases; that speed and arm strength could make him capable of learning other spots more seamlessly than others.

With the rarity of a 2-time Gold Glover at catcher, the versatility of Realmuto’s agility and arm strength could make him someone who’d be one of the first to come to mind that you could throw out and ask to play all nine positions along with being a Silver Slugger at the plate, too. If his teammate Bryce Harper went from outfield to first in Philly, maybe that’s a personal challenge to JT to go play in the outfield!

Elly De La Cruz // Cincinnati Reds Infielder

Elly is the epitome of the athletic specimen you think of, who’s just a pure freak who was somehow handed a baseball bat. He’s 22 and built like an NBA player at 6’5 200, sprints and legs out singles into doubles and doubles into triples, and runs the basepaths with the aggression of a little leaguer with already 30 stolen bases through the first two months of the year. He’s also becoming a pure hitter by bringing his high strikeout rate down from his rookie campaign, where grown men watched


him with the joy of a little boy falling in love with baseball again; the prowess he shows on the field is like a superhero discovering his powers. Elly plays third and shortstop with a 91.5  arm strength on his baseball savant; if you don’t think at just 22, you could throw him in the outfield to make a throw to home plate; you underestimate his confidence and purity when it comes to the game.

The offense has arrived, and he has alien fielding tools. 9 Elly’s would hold their own.

Steven Kwan // Cleveland Guardians Outfielder

Since his debut in 2022, Steven Kwan has been one of the most intelligent and disciplined minds in baseball, both at the plate and on the field. He plays for the highly regarded Cleveland system, which prides itself on smart contact-based hitting and avoiding mistakes defensively.

He might not have the athletic prowess to pass the “airport test” of seeing an athlete at the airport and immediately knowing like Elly might, whereas Kwan is just 5’9″. Still, he’s methodical at the plate, has above-average arm strength, and has exceptional outs above average that you would trust to throw out and learn any position on the diamond.

Two Gold Gloves already while playing every position in the outfield, some speed with 43 stolen bases through two seasons, and pure intelligence would make Kwan a reliable sleeper you could build an entire team of.

Bobby Witt Jr. // Kansas City Royals Shortstop

Already deemed the man in Kansas City at just 24 and inked to an 11-year extension after his sophomore campaign, there’s a reason he was drafted second overall out of high school: his 5-tool capability. We knew he’d be able to make diving throws in the infield, steal bases and leg out triples, hit homers, and make unbelievable throws, but Witt Jr. is already ahead of schedule as an MVP candidate. His baseball savant page is painted entirely red and ranks in the first percentile of almost every fielding metric; he seemingly says all the right things, is a leader in the clubhouse and has only become gradually more intelligent on both sides of the ball, lowering his strikeout rate and stealing even more bases.

Are you telling us he couldn’t just be thrown out into a different position entirely with a positive attitude and learn it with his 6’1″200, 200-pound frame and power?

Witt was a former home run derby winner with power in high school, led the league in sprint speed, led the league in triples, and had a 30 homer-45 stolen base season last year.

He’s the face of the franchise already in Kansas City and a bona fide athlete. If the thunder to his lightning Salvador Perez at catcher went out in Kansas City, or if Vinnie Pasquantino drank too much Italian coffee to play first base, Bobby would be a willing and fine “break glass in case of emergency” candidate.

PHOTO: Cleveland Guardians

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