While the technology boom in baseball has made it easier to evaluate both hitters and pitchers in recent years, forecasting a player’s defensive potential, especially in the Minor Leagues, remains a mostly subjective exercise, with defensive metrics and scouting often carrying equal weight.
So when it comes to determining the best overall defensive prospects in the Minors, opinions tend to vary.
MLB Pipeline’s recent executive poll posed this very question, and while some prospects received more widespread love than others, the final results offered little in the way of an overall consensus for every position. That polling served as the primary source in assembling MLB Pipeline’s 2020 All-Defense Team, and additional scouts and industry personnel were tapped to help decide the top defensive prospect at positions with numerous candidates.
Earning his third consecutive All-Defense Team selection, Braves outfielder Cristian Pache was pegged by executives and scouts alike as the best overall defensive prospect. Evan White (Mariners), Nick Madrigal (White Sox) and Ke’Bryan Hayes (Pirates) are back for a second straight year, and it shouldn’t be long until all four players are flashing their defensive chops at the highest level.
Catcher: Sean Murphy, Athletics No. 3 prospect/MLB No. 42
Left knee surgery limited Murphy to just 53 total games last season, but the 2016 third-rounder still showcased one of the strongest arms among big league backstops. Murphy only had six runners steal against him in the big leagues, but still recorded two of the hardest-thrown balls on caught-stealing attempts in 2019, including an 87.4-mph dart that was fourth-best in MLB. And while his receiving and framing do require more refinement, you won’t find a more athletic and agile blocker behind the plate. Tigers prospect Jake Rogers also merits consideration after claiming this spot in each of the past two years. Prior to making his Tigers debut on July 30, Rogers had thrown out 53.2 percent of attempted basestealers in the Minors, bringing his career mark to a superb 49.3 percent.
1B: Evan White, Mariners No. 4/MLB No. 58
First basemen aren’t typically viewed as game-changing defenders; but that’s not the case with White, who finished tied for third in the “Who is the best defensive prospect?” category of Pipeline’s executive poll. The former first-round pick (2017) is an excellent athlete with plus speed and he makes every infielder on his team better with his slick glove and elite footwork around the bag.
2B: Nick Madrigal, White Sox No. 4/MLB No. 40
Madrigal was viewed as the best defensive player in the 2018 Draft -- when the White Sox selected him with the No. 4 overall pick -- and lived up to that reputation his first full season, committing just two errors in 108 games (.992 fielding percentage) across three levels en route to a MiLB Rawlings Gold Glove Award. His glove, range and arm could make him a Gold Glover in the big leagues, and executives widely agree that the 22-year-old has the highest baseball IQ among prospects.
3B: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates No. 2/MLB No. 36
The son of Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan was viewed as a plus defender when the Pirates took him in the first round of the 2015 Draft, and he’s only gotten better in subsequent years. The 22-year-old’s plus hands and plus arm continue to be his greatest assets, and he’s made major gains with his athleticism and range at the hot corner by improving his conditioning. The second leading vote-getter in MLB Pipeline’s executive poll, Hayes garnered his third straight MiLB Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 2019 and made all but three plays in 104 Triple-A games (.989 fielding percentage). Overall, Hayes has committed just 17 errors while recording a .974 fielding percentage in 331 professional games.
SS: Nick Allen, Athletics No. 6
Perhaps the best defensive player in the 2017 Draft, Allen is a wizard on the infield thanks to a blend of tools and instincts. The 21-year-old’s plus arm is as strong as it is accurate, and scouts laud his ability to throw from any angle while moving in any direction. Allen also has plus range and outstanding hands to go along with first-step quickness, which enables him to make the plays that elude most shortstops. Andres Gimenez (Mets), MLB Pipeline’s All-Defense Team shortstop in 2019, Jeremy Pena (Astros), Sergio Alcantara (Tigers) and No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco (Rays) all received consideration.
OF: Cristian Pache, Braves No. 1/MLB No. 11
Pache’s name is the first to come up in any conversation about the best overall defensive prospect, so it wasn’t all that surprising that executives voted him as such. Possessing three 70-grade tools in his speed, glove and arm, the 21-year-old runs down anything and everything in center field thanks to his outstanding instincts, range and closing speed. Pache’s offense requires further refinement, but the defense is big league-ready and could make him a perennial Gold Glover.
OF: Leody Taveras, Rangers No. 5
A member of MLB Pipeline’s 2018 All-Defense Team, Taveras’ defensive prowess in center field has earned him Carlos Gómez comparisons, and he also enjoyed a career-best offensive campaign in 2019 while reaching Double-A. The ultra-athletic 21-year-old showcases his plus speed in center field, getting quick jumps and taking direct routes, and he has now recorded at least 12 assists in back-to-back years thanks to a solid, accurate arm.
OF: Yonathan Daza, Rockies No. 10
Signed out of Venezuela in Oct. 2010, Daza reached the Majors for the first time in ’19 and ultimately appeared in 44 games with the Rockies. Considered the best center field prospect in Colorado’s system, the 25-year-old makes it look easy out there with plus instincts, reads and routes to go along with excellent first-step quickness. Other players mentioned by executives and scouts include Angels top prospect Jo Adell, Victor Victor Mesa (Marlins), Buddy Reed (A’s) and Derek Hill (Tigers).