We often talk about the necessary period of adjustment when a player transitions from the Minor Leagues to the Majors and, increasingly in recent years, just how wide the gap is between those levels. But it's becoming clear that one particular skill can make the jump well -- the glove.
Rockies center fielder Brenton Doyle and Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe were the latest rookies to win Gold Glove Awards on Sunday. Their honors came after a record three rooks -- Brendan Donovan, Jeremy Peña, Steven Kwan -- were Gold Glovers in 2022. Over the last four seasons, there have been seven rookie Gold Glove winners, compared to 10 over the previous 62 years combined.
The reasoning here is fairly straightforward. Young up-and-comers are more athletic than ever, and in many cases, athleticism doesn't need much of an adjustment. If you can sprint 30 ft/sec to the gaps to track down a fly ball in Toledo, you can do it in Detroit. If you have the hands to handle rockets at the hot corner in Oklahoma City, you have those same mitts in Los Angeles.
While this rookie Gold Glove train is at full speed, here's a look at some candidates who could take home their own personal hardware in 2024:
The clear favorites
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs (No. 1, MLB No. 12)
Chicago fans already caught sight of the only prospect with an 80 fielding tool grade after his Sept. 11 debut, and while the bat will take some time to adjust to MLB pitching, the glove already plays. Crow-Armstrong showed a 29.9 ft/sec average Sprint Speed on competitive runs, putting him in the Majors' 98th percentile, and his jumps and routes off the bat are otherworldly. With Cody Bellinger entering free agency, there is a lane to a starting role in the center of Wrigley Field for the 21-year-old, and playing time might be the only separating factor in his Gold Glove candidacy.
Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/SS, Red Sox (No. 3, MLB No. 72)
Boston played Rafaela at center field, shortstop and even second base after he arrived in late August, so this is a good time for a reminder that there are Gold Gloves for utility players now. The 23-year-old's best defensive position is in center, where he has the most space to chase down balls and make regular spectacular catches, and the early numbers backed that up as he was worth +2 Outs Above Average there in only 116 2/3 innings played. But his plus speed and strong arm can work anywhere up the middle, and depending on the play of Jarren Duran in center, Rafaela could move around all three spots similar to Enrique Hernández with even bigger defensive impact.
Jeferson Quero, C, Brewers (No. 2, MLB No. 32)
Considered one of the best defensive catchers in the Minors while reaching Double-A at just 20 years old, Quero is a pitcher's dream backstop -- one who can frame, block and throw with the very best of them. His 45.8 percent caught-stealing rate in last year's Arizona Fall League remains one of the best AFL defensive performances in recent memory, and his 34.6 CS% was second-best among Double-A qualifiers in 2023. There is a William Contreras-sized roadblock to Major League playing time for Quero in Milwaukee in 2024, but if any injury befalls the All-Star, Quero is a natural defensive replacement.
Jordan Lawlar, SS, D-backs (No. 1, MLB No. 10)
Regular-season and postseason playing time was limited for the 2021 sixth overall pick, but he certainly made a defensive impact on the dirt, resulting in +2 Outs Above Average in only 77 innings at the six. Using plus-plus speed, Lawlar particularly thrived on balls coming in and toward the third-base side. Geraldo Perdomo was the club's starting shortstop this summer and fall, but Lawlar has the higher overall ceiling and should get every chance to win the full-time gig next spring.
Masyn Winn, SS, Cardinals (No. 1, MLB No. 30)
Winn's 80-grade arm strength has long been legendary, and it's already played well in The Show. He had 10 of the 11 hardest throws by Cardinals infielders in 2023, topping out at 98.4 mph, and we know he's touched triple-digits in the past, so there's more in the tank. That said, the rest of Winn's defensive capabilities haven't been quite up to snuff in the Majors; he was worth -3 Outs Above Average at short late in the season, with most of his struggles coming on plays to his right toward third base. Given his at least plus speed, Winn has the capability to correct and be a more commanding presence at the six in '24.
Joey Ortiz, INF, Orioles (No. 6, MLB No. 50)
This might take a trade for Ortiz to realize his Gold Glove potential in 2024, or he could be another utility option for the award given his experience at second base, shortstop and third base in The Show. The 2019 fourth-rounder has good instincts and impressive hands that help him play anywhere on the dirt, and his above-average arm would make him a full-time option for any organization that doesn't currently employ Gunnar Henderson and has Jackson Holliday waiting in the wings.
Nasim Nuñez, SS/2B, Marlins (No. 17)
One of the few prospects with a true 70-grade fielding tool, the 2023 All-Star Futures Game MVP is a plus-plus runner who makes everything look easy up the middle from his ability to track balls down to his great hands to his strong throws from either spot. His glovework could get him to Miami on its own, but his Gold Glove chances in 2024 might be determined by the bat; he slugged just .286 and posted a .627 OPS in 125 Double-A games this summer. Then again, Patrick Bailey went from High-A in 2022 to Gold Glove finalist in 2023.
Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers (No. 1, MLB No. 2)
The Brewers have a healthy amount of young, fast outfielders with Major League experience, but Chourio is absolutely a talent they'll make room for when he's ready. Considering he ended at Triple-A, that time is coming. Defensively, the 19-year-old is a plus-plus runner capable of covering ground gap-to-gap, and those high-energy wheels would play anywhere on the grass. Adding Chourio to the mix alongside Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, Joey Wiemer and Christian Yelich (who showed range improvements in 2023) could give Milwaukee the game's best defensive outfield.
Victor Scott II, OF, Cardinals (No. 4)
Scott grabbed headlines when he tied for the Minor League lead with 94 steals in his first full season, and the 2022 fifth-rounder draws strong reviews for his 70-grade glove on top of his 80-grade wheels. He can track down balls well on the fly but isn't afraid to embrace the wall or go into a slide when needed. The Cardinals have some outfield sorting to do before Scott, who reached Double-A in late June, becomes a true MLB option, but his assignment to the prospect finishing school that is the Arizona Fall League is a promising sign.
Parker Meadows, OF, Tigers (No. 10)
Riley Greene's late-season elbow-related absence opened up a spot in center field for Meadows, and the 23-year-old literally ran with it. His +4 OAA was tied with Jake Marisnick for best among Tigers outfielders in 2023, and that came over only 36 games. Meadows particularly thrived moving laterally, and that helps cover up some of the Tigers' larger deficiencies in the corners. His arm also played above-average and would be even more valuable over a larger sample next summer, regardless of where he lands in the grass when Greene returns next spring from Tommy John surgery.