Few things are prettier than an outfielder racing to chase down a hard-hit ball in the gap, leaving his feet in a full dive to pluck the ball from the air before crashing to the ground with the ball securely in his glove. Or a third baseman flashing catlike reflexes to snag a screamer up the line. Greater still, the infielder who leaps skyward to strike down a sure single and preserve a no-hitter. And how about the guys who routinely make the impossible plays look effortless?
While each of those scenarios gets the crowd roaring, great defensive plays can also effectively suck the wind out of the opposing team's sails, stop a rally in its tracks and swing momentum the opposite way.
Of all the unique talents in baseball, players with defensive moxie are among the most treasured. Because of that, this week, we'll explore the best glove from each team in the National League Central:
Brewers: Lorenzo Cain
One of baseball’s injustices was finally solved last season when Cain received the first Gold Glove Award of his career. Teammates and manager Craig Counsell openly lobbied for the honor beginning on Opening Day, when the center fielder's spectacular, game-ending, home run-robbing catch sealed a win over the Cardinals at Miller Park. It was the first of at least five home run robberies for Cain, who may have topped his Opening Day heroics during the Brewers’ final series of the regular season, when, with the Brewers fighting for a division title and Cain compromised by multiple leg injuries, he robbed another homer in a hard-fought loss at Coors Field.
“I don’t know if we have to literally go to Tiffany’s or wherever, and we have to go to buy this Gold Glove for him. He needs this Gold Glove,” teammate Gio González said that night. “That guy deserves it and, hands down, is one of the best outfielders in the game. Give him his damn Gold Glove already.”
Cain has an impressive 40 defensive runs saved over the past two years, including 22 in 2019, according to FanGraphs. The only big league outfielder with better numbers last season was Washington’s Victor Robles (23). -- Adam McCalvy
Cardinals: Kolten Wong
The Cardinals boasted one of the best defenses in baseball in 2019, so there are plenty of worthy candidates for this tool. But if we’re evaluating all fielding aspects other than the player’s arm strength, second baseman Wong is at the top of the list. The Gold Glove Award winner has a highlight reel of plays that showcase his quickness, range, instincts and general athletic ability that allow him to make elite defensive plays in the field.
Wong and shortstop Paul DeJong, who also can be considered for best glove on the team, make an effective double-play pairing, too. According to FanGraphs, Wong had 19 defensive runs saved last season, 10th in the Majors and tops among second basemen, and a 5.2 ultimate zone rating, which was first among second basemen in baseball.
Cubs: Javier Báez
The general thought a few years ago was that Báez was an outstanding second baseman and could be a solid shortstop. Last season, Báez made the transition to full-time shortstop and issued a strong statement for anyone still doubting he could be elite at the position. Per Statcast, Báez led all Major League infielders with 19 outs above average in 2019. His 26 defensive runs saved last year, per FanGraphs, not only led the Cubs by a mile -- Jason Heyward was next, with six -- but were tied for the third-most among all Major Leaguers at any position. -- Jordan Bastian
Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes
Adam Frazier was an NL Gold Glove Award finalist at second base last year, catcher Jacob Stallings was arguably the Pirates’ best defender as he significantly improved his pitch-framing and Jarrod Dyson will be the starting center fielder this year because of his elite speed and defense. But the best defensive player who could take the field for the Pirates this year is one who has yet to reach the Majors: Hayes.
Questions remain about the bat of Hayes, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s No. 2 prospect, but he hit well before Spring Training was suspended. There’s no doubt his glove is ready for The Show. Last year, the third baseman became only the second player to ever win a Rawlings Minor League Baseball Gold Glove three years in a row, and he led the Minors with a .989 fielding percentage. Over the last three seasons, he has committed only 17 errors in 331 games on defense. Entering this spring, talent evaluators considered him one of the best defenders at any position in the Minors and a future Gold Glove Award candidate in the Majors. -- Adam Berry
Reds: Freddy Galvis
When the Reds didn’t bring back highlight-generator José Iglesias over the winter and came up empty in searching for a shortstop, they had already picked up Galvis' $5.5 million option for 2020. The move is likely a short-term measure until prospect José Garcia is big league ready. Galvis is more known for his bat, but it would be unwise to sleep on his defensive skills.
According to Statcast, Galvis’ 12 infield outs above average equaled Iglesias' performance in 2019, tying them both as the sixth-best defensive shortstops in baseball. Galvis avoids fielding mistakes, too. According to MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, Galvis made only 16 high-probability misplays over 1,168 innings combined at shortstop and second base last season, which averages to one every 73 innings and was nearly even with the top shortstop in that category, Andrelton Simmons of the Angels. -- Mark Sheldon