Though home runs and upper-90s fastballs may be more eye-catching, defense wins an awful lot of championships. The 2017 Astros were nothing special with the glove, but the 2016 Cubs recorded one of the best season-long defensive performances ever while the 2015 Royals and 2014 Giants also excelled at turning
Though home runs and upper-90s fastballs may be more eye-catching, defense wins an awful lot of championships. The 2017 Astros were nothing special with the glove, but the 2016 Cubs recorded one of the best season-long defensive performances ever while the 2015 Royals and 2014 Giants also excelled at turning balls in play into outs.
Defensive metrics are improving, giving clubs a better handle on how valuable individual players are in the field, yet it's still far from an exact science and even less so at the Minor League level. In MLB Pipeline's annual survey of front-office executives asking them to identify baseball's best defensive prospect, the 19 respondents tabbed 14 different players.
Top 10 Prospects by Position
Nationals center fielder Victor Robles, the lone repeater from our 2017 All-Defense Team, led all prospects with four votes. Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford and Rangers center fielder Leody Taveras were the only others to get multiple mentions and join Robles on our 2018 squad, which is based on our survey results as well as separate discussions with scouting and development personnel:
Catcher: Jake Rogers, Tigers
Some scouts considered him the best defender in the entire 2016 Draft, when he went in the third round to the Astros, who used him to pry Justin Verlander from the Tigers last August. Rogers erased 46 percent of basestealers in his first full pro season, enhancing solid arm strength with a lightning-fast transfer and impressive accuracy. His agility and soft hands also make him an outstanding receiver and blocker who excels at framing pitches.
"His defense is so slick," an assistant GM with an American League team said. "He has more of a 55 arm [on the 20-80 scouting scale] but it's so quick and accurate. He has such a pretty release."
Catcher was the toughest call on our All-Defense Team. The Athletics' Sean Murphy, another 2016 third-rounder, has similar receiving skills and even more pure arm strength but hasn't had the same success nabbing basestealers.
First Base: Evan White, Mariners
Like Cody Bellinger, the first baseman on last year's All-Defense Team, White could be a Gold Glove first baseman or an everyday outfielder. He has more range than most first basemen, excels at digging errant throws out of the dirt and one scout said he's the best defensive first baseman to come out of college since Nick Swisher. White also has plus speed and solid arm strength, so he's potentially capable of handling all three outfield spots.
Second Base: Luis Guillorme, Mets
He could have challenged for shortstop honors if the presence of Amed Rosario in New York hadn't led the Mets to shift Guillorme to the other side of the bag last June. He's not the quickest middle infielder, but his hands, reflexes and instincts are as good as anyone's in the Minors. He has solid range and arm strength, and he would have led the Double-A Eastern League in fielding percentage at both second (.983) and short (.968) last year if he had played enough at either position to qualify.
Third Base: Nick Senzel, Reds
He saw time at second base and shortstop at Tennessee and didn't become an everyday third baseman until his junior season in 2016, when he was the No. 2 overall pick. Senzel is faster and more athletic than most players at the hot corner, where his hands and strong arm are also assets.
Shortstop: J.P. Crawford, Phillies
After getting significant support when we assembled our 2016 and 2017 All-Defense Teams, he makes it this time around. Crawford's range at shortstop belies his average speed, and his quick hands, strong arm and uncanny internal clock help him make all the plays. He moved all over the infield for the Phillies last September, looking very good at second and third base for someone with little experience at either position, but is their unquestioned shortstop after they traded Freddy Galvis to the Padres.
"He's very advanced at a premium position," a pro scout with an AL club said. "There are others with better tools at shortstop, but this guy can really play the position and his tools are still plenty good. His feel for shortstop, secondary tools and defensive intangibles help separate him from others."
Outfield: Cristian Pache, Braves
Braves überprospect Ronald Acuna can do almost anything on the diamond, including play quality defense in center field, but he'll eventually have to cede the position. That's because Pache's blazing speed and fine instincts allow him to cover more ground in the outfield than perhaps any other prospect. He also has plus arm strength, unusual for his position, and used it to top the low Class A South Atlantic League with 17 assists last summer.
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Outfield: Victor Robles, Nationals
If Pache doesn't have the best range among outfield prospects, then that distinction might belong to Robles. He not only has plus-plus speed but also the arm strength to match. While he could cruise on natural ability, he has worked diligently to improve his reads, routes and throwing accuracy.
"He's a game-changing defender," a National League farm director said, "with both his arm and his glove."
Outfield: Leody Taveras, Rangers
One of the best athletes available during the 2015-16 international signing period, Taveras is highly advanced for a teenager. He makes the most of his plus speed in center field, getting quick jumps and taking direct routes, and his solid arm strength would fit anywhere in the outfield.
"He plays center field so easy," an AL farm director said. "I bet Carlos Gomez was like that as a teenager. It's a similar body and an explosive athlete."
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.