There is so much pressure on prospects to perform at the plate. If they don’t hit, they don’t get noticed and might not advance.
Sometimes that means defensive acumen is underappreciated. But not here at MLB Pipeline. We recently announced our All-Defensive Prospect Team and asked executives who they thought were the best defensive prospects in the game. Many of the outstanding defenders on those lists appear below, along with the other top glovemen in each organization.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Dasan Brown, OF (No. 18)
Toronto’s third-round pick in last year’s Draft, Brown was viewed by many evaluators as the premier athlete in his class. The Ontario native has close to, if not elite speed that enables him to run down anything and everything in center field, where he projects as at least a plus defender. But as one of the 2019 Draft’s youngest players -- he turned 18 in late September -- Brown’s bat, as well as his all-around game, will require time for development.
Orioles: Cadyn Grenier, SS (No. 22)
After an outstanding career at Oregon State that included a College World Series title and a Brooks Wallace Award as college baseball’s top shortstop, Grenier brought his glovework to the Orioles via the 2018 Draft. In his year-plus as a pro, he’s continued to show plus range, actions and arm strength, not to mention excellent hands, instincts and an internal clock to be a plus defender for a long time.
Rays: Josh Lowe, OF (No. 11)
A third baseman at the outset of his pro career after being selected in the first round of the 2016 Draft, Lowe moved to center field ahead of his first full season and immediately proved a natural at the position, covering huge amounts of ground with his plus speed and long, graceful strides. He also has a plus arm that qualifies him to play right field and began to come into his own as a hitter in 2019, slashing .252/.341/.442 with 18 homers and 30 steals in Double-A.
Red Sox: Gilberto Jimenez, OF (No. 7)
Jimenez has 70-80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale and covers a lot of ground in center field, where he has improved his reads and routes in two seasons as a pro. A $10,000 bargain signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, he skipped a level last year and won the short-season New York-Penn League batting title (.359) in his U.S. debut.
Yankees: Oswald Peraza, SS (No. 29)
A smooth defender at shortstop, Peraza has quick feet, trustworthy hands and a strong arm. Signed out of Venezuela for $175,000 in 2017, he made just five errors in 44 games at Class A last season, an outstanding performance for a teenager at that level.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Bo Naylor, C (No. 13)
Though Naylor went 29th overall in the 2018 Draft because he was one of the best high school hitters available, scouts were split on whether he'd be able to handle catching or would be better off moving to third base. Cleveland has no plans on moving him from behind the plate after seeing the progress he made as a receiver and framer during his first full pro season, and his strong arm has proven effective at curtailing basestealers.
Royals: Nick Pratto, 1B (No. 10)
The 2017 first-rounder took a step back offensively in his second full season, batting just .191 with a .588 OPS in the Carolina League, but he’s continued to receive rave reviews for his glovework at first base. He’s a standout athlete with excellent instincts and defensive tools, including a plus arm that generated upper-80s fastballs from the mound as a prep.
Tigers: Sergio Alcantara, SS/2B (No. 15)
That Alcantara has now been on the Tigers’ 40-man roster for two years without surpassing the Double-A level speaks to his tremendous defensive value. The 23-year-old is a true plus defender at shortstop with excellent first-step quickness, a slick glove and 70-grade arm strength that generates lasers across the infield. The switch-hitter doesn’t offer nearly as much value with the bat and has near bottom-of-the-scale power, though he does make consistent contact and works his share of walks.
Twins: Ryan Jeffers, C (No. 10)
When the Twins took Jeffers out of UNC-Wilmington in the 2018 Draft, he was thought of more as an offensive-minded catcher. But he’s improved by leaps and bounds, with an above-average arm to go along with outstanding receiving and blocking skills. He works well with pitchers and calls a good game as well.
White Sox: Nick Madrigal, 2B (No. 4/MLB No. 40)
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 Draft out of Oregon State, Madrigal is both the best contact hitter and the best defensive second baseman in the Minors. His actions, quickness and hands all would work well at shortstop, though his average arm makes him a better fit at second, and his high baseball IQ is apparent in the field.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Brandon Marsh, OF (No. 2)
In just about any other organization, we’d be talking about Marsh preparing to take over in center field, where his range, instincts and athleticism all make him a plus defender. But with Mike Trout ahead of him, he’ll move to a corner, where he’s shown he’s excellent.
Astros: Jeremy Pena, SS/2B (No. 8)
One of the best defenders in the 2018 college crop, Pena went in the third round out of Maine largely because his plus range and arm strength allow him to make all the plays at shortstop and fit anywhere he might be needed in the infield. The son of former big league second baseman Geronimo Pena hit better than expected in his first full year as a pro, batting .303/.385/.440 between two Class A levels.
A’s: Nick Allen, SS (No. 6)
Allen made our All-Defensive Prospect Team this year, thanks to his strong and accurate arm, first-step quickness, plus range and soft hands, not to mention tremendous instincts at the premium position.
Mariners: Evan White, 1B (No. 4/MLB No. 58)
It’s not often that a first baseman is talked about as perhaps the best defensive prospect at any position. But White does get brought up in discussions and he got votes in our executive poll on that subject. He’ll save runs with his hands around the bag and has outstanding range to go along with a strong arm.
Rangers: Leody Taveras, OF (No. 5)
Signed for $2.1 million out of the Dominican Republic as one of the top athletes in the 2015 international class, Taveras rivals the Braves' Cristian Pache as the best center fielder in the Minors. A cousin of former big league stolen base champ Willy Taveras, he has plenty of range thanks to plus speed and keen instincts and also possesses solid arm strength.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 11)
He hasn’t been our top defensive prospect in the game for two years in a row for no reason. His range, instincts, reads and routes and arm in center field are all unparalleled. A prospect from another team recently talked about playing against him in 2019 and said, “a lot of doubles died that series.”
Marlins: Victor Victor Mesa, OF (No. 13)
Scouts raved about Mesa's defense and had mixed reviews of his offense when the Marlins signed the Cuban defector for $5.25 million in October 2018, and that's still the case after his pro debut. While he struggled at the plate, he chased down balls from gap to gap in center field and kept baserunners honest with his well above-average arm.
Mets: Andres Gimenez, SS (No. 3/MLB No. 92)
Gimenez was the shortstop on MLB Pipeline’s 2019 All-Defense Team and was in the mix again this year after a strong defensive campaign as Double-A Binghamton’s everyday shortstop. A plus runner who earns similar grades for both his fielding and arm strength, Gimenez committed 11 errors in 112 games last season and has totaled just 25 miscues over the past two years. What’s more, the 21-year-old appears ticketed for a breakout offensive season after winning the 2019 Arizona Fall League batting title (.371).
Nationals: Luis Garcia, SS/2B (No. 2/MLB No. 91)
Signed for $1.3 million back in July 2016, Garcia has taken an accelerated path through the Minors and opened 2019 as an 18-year-old in Double-A, starting slowly at the plate before finishing the season on a tear. On the other side of the ball, Garcia is a rangy, sure-handed middle infielder with innate instincts and plus arm strength that’s fits cleanly at any infield spot.
Phillies: Arquimedes Gamboa, SS (No. 22)
Like many young shortstops, Gamboa had shown flashes of brilliance defensively, but also inconsistency. He ironed out a lot of those wrinkles in 2019, still making the flashy plays with his plus range and strong arm, but without as many lapses along the way.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Antonio Pinero, SS (NR)
The 20-year-old Venezuela product has struggled to gain traction as a hitter, batting .233 across his first four seasons; but, man, can he pick it at shortstop. His lightning-quick hands and hand-eye coordination are both elite and make him an undisputed plus defender at shortstop, and his plus arm strength is more than enough to handle either position on the left side of the infield.
Cardinals: Dylan Carlson, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 24)
The 2016 first-rounder was one of the ’19 season’s top breakout prospects, slashing .292/.372/.542 with 26 homers and 20 steals as a 21-year-old between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. His above-average speed and veteran-like instincts make him a standout defender in center field, and he could be even better with a move to left. Carlson’s above-average arm is a clean fit at either position.
Cubs: Miguel Amaya, C (No. 2/MLB No. 90)
Still just 20, Amaya displays advanced receiving and framing ability for his age and solid arm strength. Signed for $1 million out of Panama in 2015, he has earned berths in the last two SiriusXM All-Star Futures Games in part because of his defense.
Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B (No. 2/MLB No. 36)
Hayes is a two-time All-Defensive Team Prospect and finished second in the executive polling about the top defensive prospect overall. He has outstanding range, footwork and a plus arm from the hot corner.
Reds: Mike Siani, OF (No. 8)
Siani may have been the best defensive outfielder in the 2018 Draft and he’s more than lived up to expectations in center field in his year-plus as a pro. He has outstanding range and instincts, with excellent reads and routes, and he used his plus arm to rack up 18 assists during his first full season in 2019.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Geraldo Perdomo, SS (No. 7)
An under-the-radar international signing in 2016, Perdomo, who signed for just $70,000, is perhaps the best defensive player in Arizona’s system. Listed at 6-foot-3, 184 pounds, he's a tall and rangy shortstop who has the actions, hands and plus arm strength needed to remain at the position, with instincts and an internal clock that earn him rave reviews from evaluators. The 20-year-old switch-hitter is no slouch at the plate either, coming off a first full season in which he batted .275/.397/.364 with 26 steals and more walks (70) than strikeouts (67) across two Class A levels.
Dodgers: Jeren Kendall, OF (NR)
The top college athlete in the 2017 Draft, Kendall lasted 23 picks amid concerns about his signability and propensity to swing and miss. While the latter have proved valid, the Vanderbilt product has shown Gold Glove potential in center field and a stronger arm than most players at that position.
Giants: Joey Bart, C (No. 19/MLB No. 1)
Though there were questions about Bart's ability to stay behind the plate in high school, he has continually improved and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's defensive player of the year in 2018 en route to becoming the No. 2 overall pick that June out of Georgia Tech. He has transformed himself into a quality receiver, owns a strong and accurate arm and shows Gold Glove upside.
Padres: Gabriel Arias, SS (No. 13)
Signed for $1.9 million during the Padres’ 2016-17 international spending spree, Arias has loud tools at shortstop but is still learning to harness them to achieve consistency. A plus defender, he has very good hands, footwork and control of his body, with arm strength and range that make it clear he’s cut out for the position long-term. The 19-year-old made strides at the plate with Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in 2019, batting .302/.339/.470 with 17 homers in his second full season.
Rockies: Ezequiel Tovar, SS (NR)
Signed in the summer of 2017, Tovar made his United States debut in 2019 and took his glove with him. His hands, range and arm all point to playing a plus shortstop for a very long time.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.