Each team's best defensive prospect

January 22nd, 2021

At the beginning of the week, we put out our annual All-Defense team, and it contained a lot of familiar faces with a lot of repeat members of the squad. Expanding to a second team allowed more plus defenders to get some due.

But we at MLB Pipeline wanted to go beyond that list of 16 names. Sure, you have to hit in order to stick in the big leagues, but it’s important to recognize players who are able to save runs, not just create them. We had that in mind when we named the best defensive prospect in each organization below.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Dasan Brown, OF (No. 16)
Toronto landed one of the 2019 Draft’s best athletes in Brown, an Ontario native whom the club selected in the third round. Brown’s elite speed gives him range for days in center field and fuels his projection as at least a plus defender at the premium position.

Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
The top player on the newly minted Top 10 catchers list, Rutschman came into pro ball as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft with plus catch-and-throw skills. His time with advanced pitchers in alternate camp in 2020 helped him improve even more, with his soft hands, agility and plus arm all looking nearly Major League ready.

Rays: Taylor Walls, SS (No. 19)
Walls was the Rays’ Defensive Player of the Year in each of his first two full-season campaigns (2018-19). The 2017 third-round pick from Florida State is a plus defender at shortstop with great hands, picturesque fielding mechanics and a strong arm that enables him to play anywhere on the infield. Walls also has range in all directions, combining above-average speed with a quick first step and strong instincts, and he receives high praise of his internal clock.  

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Red Sox: Gilberto Jimenez, OF (No. 5)
A $10,000 steal from the Dominican Republic in 2017, Jimenez uses his game-changing speed well in center field, covering plenty of ground while also showing off a plus arm. He also offers offensive potential as well, winning the short-season New York-Penn League batting title (.359) in his U.S. debut in 2019.

Yankees: Oswald Peraza, SS (No. 4)
The best player in the Yankees' 2016 international crop, Peraza has dazzled with the glove since signing for $175,000 out of Venezuela. He has smooth actions at shortstop, plus arm strength and a high baseball IQ -- and his bat-to-ball skills are impressive too.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Indians: Gabriel Arias, SS (No. 6)
Some evaluators believe that Arias has the strongest infield arm in the Minors and give him top-of-the-scale 80 grades. Signed by the Padres for $1.9 million out of Venezuela in 2016 and sent to the Indians in the Mike Clevinger trade last August, he has fluid actions, plus range and soft hands at shortstop, not to mention uncommon power potential for the position.

Royals: Nick Pratto, 1B (No. 12)
The Royals’ 2017 first-round pick (No. 14 overall) has long been revered for his defensive prowess as a first baseman, with many evaluators giving his glove a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale. His athleticism translates well at the position, while the plus arm that he used to fire upper-80s fastballs off the mound as a prep is an underrated weapon.

Tigers: Jake Rogers, C (No. 12)
That the 25-year-old backstop was recently named to MLB Pipeline’s All-Defense Team for the third time in his career speaks to Rogers' overall prowess behind the plate. He didn’t see any Major League time last season but offered a glimpse of his abilities in 2019, when he threw out 39 percent of basestealers while ranking among the best in baseball in transfer (4th, 0.66 seconds) and pop times (1.93 seconds) to second base.

Twins: Ryan Jeffers, C (No. 6)
It may have surprised some when the Twins took Jeffers in the second round of the 2018 Draft out of UNC-Wilmington, but he’s already giving them a very good return on investment. Looking more like a power-hitting backstop first, he’s worked hard on his glove work, to the point where the Twins feel he’s an elite receiver and framer with good arm strength. They trusted his glove enough to start him in both Wild Card Series games against the Astros.

White Sox: Yolbert Sanchez, SS (No. 18)
The White Sox signed Sanchez, a Cuban defector, for $2.5 million in July 2019 largely on the strength of his glove. He earns the nod over All-Defense first-team second baseman Nick Madrigal because he can make a greater impact at shortstop, where he displays classic actions, quick feet and hands and solid arm strength.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Angels: Brandon Marsh, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 73)
There might eventually be an argument between Marsh and Jordyn Adams here, with both covering a ton of ground in center field. Marsh has tremendous range because of his speed and excellent instincts with a plus arm, which should serve him well should he have to move to a corner because of that Mike Trout fellow in Los Angeles.

Astros: Jeremy Pena, SS/2B (No. 4)
The son of former big leaguer Geronimo Pena, Jeremy is a slicker fielder than his dad and ranked as one of the best defensive shortstops in the 2018 college class. A third-round pick out of Maine, he has a quick first step, plenty of range, soft hands and gets rid of the ball quickly with an arm that draws mixed reviews from fringy to plus.

A’s: Nick Allen, SS (No. 4)
The shortstop on our All-Defense team, Allen has been a tremendous defender since his high school days, making both the spectacular and the routine plays look easy. He has outstanding range, quick hands and footwork and a plus arm that helps him make throws from every spot on the field and at every angle on the run.

Mariners: Braden Bishop, OF (No. 18)
While he hasn’t been able to establish himself in the big leagues just yet, this member of our All-Defense second team can undoubtedly play the outfield at the highest level. He’s capable of manning all three spots if needed, but his speed, instincts, reads and routes all make him one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.

Rangers: Leody Taveras, OF (No. 4)
Though Taveras had played only a half-season in Double-A and hadn't made much impact offensively in the Minors, he stood out so much in center field during Summer Camp that the Rangers promoted him to the big leagues. Signed for $2.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, he covers a ton of ground because he combines plus speed with advanced instincts, and he also features solid to plus arm strength.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 10)
Chosen two years in a row as the best defensive prospect in baseball by executives, Pache is the first player to make our All-Defense team four consecutive years. Not only does he have incredible range thanks to his plus-plus speed and his instincts, but Pache has one of the strongest arms of any outfielder in the game, and he was a defender gifted enough to keep Ender Inciarte from the postseason roster in 2020 and to move Ronald Acuña Jr. to a corner in the NLCS.

Marlins: Nasim Nunez, SS (No. 20)
Arguably the best defensive shortstop in the 2019 Draft and also one of the fastest top prospects in that crop, Nunez has lived up to his reputation as a potential Gold Glove winner since signing as a second-rounder. He's silky smooth at short, possesses quick feet and hands and has the arm strength and agility to make throws from any angle.

Mets: Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF (No. 5)
Scouts viewed Crow-Armstrong as perhaps the best defensive outfielder available in the 2020 Draft. He blew away Mets officials with his performance in center field during fall instructional league after the club took him with the No. 19 overall pick. The 18-year-old is a dynamic athlete who plays hard and gets to everything hit in the air with his plus speed, first-step quickness and preternatural feel for reading the ball off the bat.

Nationals: Cody Wilson, OF
The Nationals feel that Wilson, the club’s 13th-round pick from the 2018 Draft, could handle playing center field in the Major Leagues right now. He’s a 70-grade runner who covers huge swaths of outfield territory with graceful strides and closing speed that enable him to make highlight-reel catches on a regular basis.

Phillies: Jonathan Guzman, SS/2B
Guzman has yet to play above Low A ball, but he’s already showing his glove is ready for a big league assignment. He can play on both sides of second and has a plus arm and very smooth actions with plus range and hands.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Brewers: Antonio Pinero, SS
Though Pinero has yet to break through offensively in pro ball, batting .233 across 225 Minor League games, he has never let those struggles affect his stellar defense as a shortstop. His lightning-quick hands, hand-eye coordination and first-step quickness are all elite and fuel his longstanding reputation as a plus defender. The 21-year-old’s range allows him to get to more balls than the typical shortstop, while his plus arm is plenty strong for the position.

Cardinals: Dylan Carlson, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
Carlson is mostly known for having a high offensive ceiling, but he also is an impact defender in the outfield. His above-average speed and veteran-like instincts translate to sneaky good defense in center field that plays up when he’s tasked to play either outfield corner. His above-average arm is a clean fit at all three positions.

Cubs: Ed Howard, SS (No. 4)
The starting shortstop on the Jackie Robinson West (Chicago) team that reached the 2014 Little League World Series finals, Howard blossomed into the best true shortstop prospect and a first-round pick in the 2020 Draft. He has athletic actions, fast hands, a strong arm and a good internal clock.

Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B (No. 2/MLB No. 37)
A three-time member of our All-Defense team, Hayes is often brought up as the best defensive prospect in the game. He showed just how good his glove is, with amazing agility, a plus arm and fantastic instincts at the hot corner, during his big league debut in Pittsburgh. Nolan Arenado might want to peek over his shoulder when it comes to Gold Glove Awards.

Reds: Mike Siani, OF (No. 7)
Even as an amateur on the high school showcase circuit, Siani looked like a big league center fielder. That’s continued since the Reds nabbed him in the fourth round of the 2018 Draft, making highlight-reel plays throughout his first full season in 2019 with incredible defensive instincts, an outstanding first step and plus reads and routes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

D-backs: Geraldo Perdomo, SS (No. 3/MLB No. 79)
Signed by Arizona for $70,000, Perdomo looks the part of a big league shortstop with his tall, athletic frame. He also possesses the requisite actions, hands and arm strength needed to stick at the position, as well as instincts and an internal clock that earn him rave reviews from evaluators.

Dodgers: Jacob Amaya, SS/2B (No. 10)
A sleeper prospect in a perennially loaded system, Amaya signed for an over-slot $247,500 as an 11th-round pick in the 2017 Draft. While his bat-to-ball skills are his strongest suit, his high baseball IQ and nonstop energy allow him to play quicker than his average speed in the middle infield, where he also shows quick, reliable hands and a strong, accurate arm.

Giants: Casey Schmitt, 3B (No. 23)
Schmitt was a two-way player at San Diego State, where he tied for the NCAA Division I lead with six saves last spring, but the Giants will use him exclusively at third base after signing him as a second-round choice. He moves well at the hot corner and has soft hands and an easy plus arm that produced fastballs up to 96 mph and devastating splitters in college.

Padres: CJ Abrams, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 21)
There were many evaluators who felt that Abrams would be forced to move off shortstop to either second base or center field in pro ball -- the latter being a logical destination on account of his elite speed and range. That’s much less of a concern after the 2019 No. 6 overall pick showcased vastly improved defense during San Diego’s fall instructional league that now gives club officials confidence in projecting him as a plus defensive shortstop.  

Rockies: Ezequiel Tovar, SS (No. 25)
Still a teenager, Tovar makes it look easy at his premium position. He makes the routine and flashy plays equally well, with smooth actions, plus hands and a very strong arm. Plus instincts and a fantastic first step help him stand out even more defensively.