Last spring, Michael Harris II and Adley Rutschman featured prominently on the MLB Pipeline All-Defense Team, and only months later, they proved how valuable their gloves and arms were at the top level of the game.
Of all the major tools, fielding might be what translates easiest as prospects graduate to bona fide Major Leaguers. Have glove, will travel after all.
It’s also one of the most consistent tools, at least for younger players who have yet to lose a step in their careers. That’s why certain members of this year’s All-Defense class will look familiar. Cubs outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong and Giants third baseman Casey Schmitt repeat from last year’s edition of the First Team, while Rockies first baseman Michael Toglia steps up from the Second Team. D-backs outfielder Corbin Carroll, Marlins shortstop Nasim Nuñez, Phillies outfielder Johan Rojas and Pirates third baseman Jared Triolo all appear on the secondary squad for a second consecutive season.
Our complete All-Defense First Team includes four Top 100 Prospects (end-of-2022-season organizational rankings in parentheses).
C: Jeferson Quero, Brewers (No. 7)
The 20-year-old backstop was one of the talks of the Arizona Fall League, where he threw out 46 percent (11 of 24) of attempted basestealers to lead all backstops. It was the latest in a string of strong defensive showings for Quero, who has consistently wowed Milwaukee officials with his growth in blocking and receiving. His ability to work with a pitching staff also earns rave reviews for someone just coming out of their teens. With his quick arm, Quero can look springloaded behind the plate when his plus arm is challenged by a basestealer, giving him all the pieces to be a plus catcher for years to come.
1B: Michael Toglia, Rockies (No. 15)
At a listed 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, Toglia gives his fellow infielders a large target at first base, but that size isn’t an impediment to the rest of his game either. The 24-year-old can be light on his feet, show quick reactions and provide excellent hands to play the position near the top of the scale. He also possesses an above-average arm that can be put to good use when needed on throws across the diamond. Colorado gave Toglia looks in right field during his stay in the Majors, but if they keep him at first base, he may become the first Rockies first baseman since Todd Helton (2004) to win a Gold Glove.
2B: Robert Moore, Brewers (No. 17)
The son of former Royals exec Dayton Moore, the former Arkansas star used a glove-first profile to become the 72nd overall pick last July. While Moore isn’t a speedster, he is fast to react on balls up the middle and has the hands to make a lot of difficult plays. Below-average arm strength likely limits him to second over shortstop, though he made 14 Minor League starts at the six because Milwaukee loves his fielding ability so much.
3B: Casey Schmitt, Giants (No. 6)
Speaking of could-be shortstops, Schmitt slid over to short for 40 games with High-A Eugene last year out of roster necessity and held his own despite below-average speed. That’s how good his hands, plus arm strength (dating back to his pitching days at San Diego State) and side-to-side range can be on the dirt, and it’s why he was a repeat selection for this position, as well as a Minor League Gold Glove winner for his work across three levels in 2022. If all goes well, he could be San Francisco’s hot hand at the hot corner in the first half of this season.
SS: Ezequiel Tovar, Rockies (No. 2, MLB No. 27)
Flashy defenders get the headlines and the highlights. Smooth defenders pop up more in analytics and internal scouting reports. Tovar is capable of being both on any given night. The 21-year-old uses his footwork to often be in the right place at the right time, and he handles his glove tremendously well to either side. A plus arm comes in handy on close plays, but the work done ahead of the throws lessens the burden on it too. Tovar was a quality prospect on his defense alone before last year’s offensive breakout and now fits comfortably within our Top 50 overall prospects.
OF: Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cubs (No. 1, MLB No. 30)
Of anyone on this talented list, Crow-Armstrong seems likeliest to win multiple, not just one, Gold Gloves someday because his defense is just that special. Watch Single-A Myrtle Beach or High-A South Bend highlights from 2022, and it wasn’t all that uncommon that you’d see the 2020 first-rounder fly from outside of the frame to track down a ball in the right- or left-center gap, such was Crow-Armstrong’s range in his first fully healthy Minor League season. An above-average arm helped him pick up six outfield assists, but it’s that combination of instincts and speed that typically leaves opponents, fans and evaluators with their jaws on the floor.
OF: Druw Jones, D-backs (No. 2, MLB No. 11)
Because of a left shoulder injury suffered shortly after going second overall in the Draft, Jones is the only First Team honoree yet to play a Minor League game. No matter. His amateur reports were so glowing that he commands a spot on this list that is more about projection than it is pure pro performance. Much like his father Andruw, Jones covers tons of ground in center with efficient routes and plus-plus speed. A 65-grade arm makes him a candidate for center or right, and that’ll be important if and when he’s competing with Alek Thomas and Second Teamer Corbin Carroll for outfield time in the desert.
OF: Ceddane Rafaela, Red Sox (No. 3, MLB No. 96)
It felt like a weekly occurrence with Double-A Portland last summer. A ball would be hit to an Eastern League outfield fence. Rafaela would come flying in from his spot in center field and snatch said ball just before it could drop for an extra-base hit, either as a homer or a double to the gap. Not bad for a 21-year-old who just took to center field in 2021. Rafaela’s agility and willingness to dig deep to track down the ball has moved him all over the diamond in his early career, but all of that defensive prowess might feature best in center where he has the most room to show what makes him special.
C: Drew Romo, Rockies (No. 4, MLB No. 63)
1B: Triston Casas, Red Sox (No. 2, MLB No. 25)
2B: Peyton Wilson, Royals (No. 21)
3B: Jared Triolo, Pirates (No. 24)
SS: Nasim Nuñez, Marlins (No. 23)
OF: Jorge Barrosa, D-backs (No. 18)
OF: Corbin Carroll, D-backs (No. 1, MLB No. 3)
OF: Johan Rojas, Phillies (No. 5)