Baseball is often a game of numbers. Especially with the explosion of advanced metrics, a player's performance can be quantified in many ways.
While strides have certainly been made in measuring defensive ability in the same manner, there is still more subjectivity when evaluating glove work. That doesn't mean defense and run prevention aren't important. If the offseason deals for pitching and the large contract Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs are any indication, keeping runs from crossing the plate has increased in value.
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It's not just crucial in terms of free-agent signings. Teams want to develop homegrown players who not only impact the game offensively, but with their gloves as well. Trying to figure out who the best defensive prospect in the game was the focus of the most recent Pipeline Poll of general managers, scouting directors and executives. It was abundantly clear just how subjective defense still is when the array of answers came in.
There were a total of 21 responses that brought in 14 names. There was no clear-cut winner, but Twins outfielder Byron Buxton did lead the way. The top three:
Name, Pos., Team, Votes
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins, 5
Orlando Arcia, SS, Brewers, 4
J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies, 3
See a pattern there? It actually was the one common theme in nearly all the responses. All but one of the baker's dozen of prospects mentioned a position up the middle. There were seven shortstops, three catchers and two center fielders. Opinions may greatly vary on the particular player, but it's obvious that finding good defenders up the middle is the key.
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"Defense up the middle is so valued because of the impact it carries," one general manager said. "The shortstop is the general of the infield, and the catcher may be the most impactful defender on the field. Defense matters, and up-the-middle impact can make or break a club."
That got the MLBPipeline.com crew thinking. Taking these votes into consideration and doing our own internal work, we've come up with the 2016 All-Defense Prospect Team.
Catcher: Reese McGuire, Pirates
The 2013 first-round pick's bat hasn't come around just yet, but there's no question about his glove. McGuire is an outstanding receiver, with a strong and accurate arm to go along with rapidly developing game-calling skills.
First base: Dom Smith, Mets
While Smith, also from that 2013 first round, is a first baseman only, he has great hands and footwork around the bag to go along with an accurate arm. Infielders are going to love throwing to him at the big league level.
Second base: José Peraza, Reds
Sure, he's been traded twice in the span of five months, but that doesn't take away from his skills in the field. Peraza was a shortstop initially with the Braves, but he moved mostly because of the presence of Andrelton Simmons. He brings shortstop ability over to second, where he has the chance to be a plus defender.
Third base: Matt Chapman, A's
Finding guys who profile at the hot corner offensively while showing they can stick there defensively is tough. Chapman has the glove part down. He has one of the strongest infield arms in the Minors, and his hands and feet will work very well at third long-term.
Shortstop: Orlando Arcia, Brewers
Arcia was known as a glove-first guy when he began his pro career, but he has since raised his overall prospect profile by improving his offensive game considerably. The defense hasn't taken a back seat. Anyone who saw him play in the Futures Game knows that.
Outfield: Byron Buxton, Twins
Sure, he struggled offensively during his big league debut. But Buxton's defense didn't suffer and he can flat-out do it all in center field, with plus range and excellent instincts to go along with fearlessness and a cannon for an arm.
Outfield: Albert Almora, Cubs
The Cubs have made so much noise with prospects lately, Almora has gone a bit under the radar. He has future Gold Glove potential as well, maximizing just average speed with terrific jumps and routes. Almora's arm is strong and accurate, too.
Outfield: Andrew Stevenson, Nationals
A second-rounder in the 2015 Draft, scouts raved about his defense in center field while he was at LSU and during his pro debut. Some scouts put a 70 on the 20-80 scale for Stevenson's fielding. Buxton is the only one on this list with a 70 fielding grade.