Here are baseball's best defensive prospects

January 17th, 2021

If you think MLB Pipeline's sixth annual All-Defense team looks familiar, you're correct. Seven of the eight members have made previous editions of our squad of the best defensive prospects in the game.

Braves outfielder Cristian Pache, a mainstay on the All-Defense team since 2018, is the first player to make it four times.

Tigers catcher Jake Rogers, White Sox second baseman Nick Madrigal, Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes and Rangers outfielder Leody Taveras are three-time honorees. Athletics shortstop Nick Allen and outfielder Buddy Reed garner their second selections, with Royals first baseman Nick Pratto the lone newcomer.

Hayes and Madrigal both ranked among the big league leaders in outs saved at their positions despite spending less than half the season in the Majors. Pache and Taveras also made an impression with their defensive efforts in their introduction to the big leagues last summer.

Below is a breakdown as to what makes all of these guys special defenders, along with their end-of-2020-season prospect rankings:

C: Jake Rogers, Tigers (No. 12)
Rogers had a reputation as the best defensive player in the 2016 Draft, where the Astros made him a third-rounder out of Tulane, and he has lived up to the billing. Though he has yet to hit enough to claim a regular job in the Majors after going to the Tigers in the Justin Verlander trade, he threw out 39 percent of big league basestealers, while posting the fourth-quickest transfer (0.66 seconds) and pop times to second base (1.93 seconds) in 2019. His arm plays better than its solid to plus strength because of the quickness and accuracy of his throws and he also stands out as a receiver, blocker and game-caller.

1B: Nick Pratto, Royals (No. 12)
The 14th overall pick in the 2017 Draft out of a California high school, Pratto has developed slower than expected offensively but has shown Gold Glove potential at first base. A better athlete than most at his position, he moves well around the bag, has a strong arm that made him a pitching prospect as an amateur and plays defense with an aggressive mindset.

2B: Nick Madrigal, White Sox (No. 3/MLB No. 36)
Madrigal has the quick hands, smooth infield actions and baseball IQ to handle shortstop, though his fringy arm makes him a better fit at second base. The fourth overall choice in the 2018 Draft from Oregon State, he had the game uncharacteristically speed up on him at times during his big league debut last summer but still tied for 10th with two Outs Above Average at second base in just 29 starts.

3B: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pirates (No. 2/MLB No. 37)
While Hayes' power was a revelation during his big league debut last summer, his prowess with the glove has been apparent since the Pirates selected him in the first round out of a Texas high school in 2015. The son of 14-year big leaguer Charlie Hayes, he has gotten quicker since signing and has the instincts, range, hands and arm to make all the plays at the hot corner. He tied for fourth among MLB third basemen with three Outs Above Average despite playing in just 24 games.

SS: Nick Allen, Athletics (No. 4)
The undersized (5-foot-8, 166 pounds) Allen is a dynamic presence at shortstop, which is why the A's gave him an over-slot $2 million bonus as a third-rounder out of a California high school in 2017. He has twitchy actions, plus range, quick hands and a strong arm that makes accurate throws from a variety of angles. He committed just four errors in 45 games at short in 2019, when a high ankle sprain cut his season short.

OF: Cristian Pache, Braves (No. 1/MLB No. 10)
Pache has been in the discussion of the best overall defensive prospect since 2018, when he earned his first All-Defense mention. Signed for $1.4 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, he's the complete package as a center fielder. He enhances his plus-plus speed with outstanding instincts, allowing him to reach balls many players can't. He also has plus-plus arm strength, which is exceptional for a center fielder, and his defensive ability led the Braves to keep him over three-time Gold Glover Ender Inciarte on their 2020 postseason roster.

OF: Leody Taveras, Rangers (No. 4)
Taveras was clearly the best center fielder in the Rangers' Summer Camp, which prompted them to promote him to Texas, where he didn't disappoint. Signed for $2.1 million out of the Dominican Republic as one of the top athletes in the 2015 international class, he plays quicker than his plus speed in center field because he makes quality reads and jumps. His solid to plus arm is also stronger than most at his position.

OF: Buddy Reed, Athletics (No. 24)
The only player to make All-Defense teams with two organizations, Reed signed with the Padres as a second-rounder from Florida in 2016 and went to the A's in the Jurickson Profar trade three years later. Like Pache and Taveras, he has wheels (plus-plus speed), unusual (plus) arm strength for a center fielder and the instincts to get the most out of them. He showed off his ability in the 2018 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, robbing Fernando Tatis Jr. with a spectacular running catch.

For the first time this year, we're also presenting an All-Defense second team. This group includes a pair of Top 100 Prospects in Braves catcher Shea Langeliers and Rays second baseman Vidal Brujan and two 2020 draftees in Tigers third baseman Gage Workman and Mets outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong:

C: Shea Langeliers, Braves (No. 4/MLB No. 65)
1B: Michael Toglia, Rockies (No. 3)
2B: Vidal Brujan, Rays (No. 4/MLB No. 41)
3B: Gage Workman, Tigers (No. 21)
SS: Nasim Nunez, Marlins (No. 20)
OF: Braden Bishop, Mariners (No. 18)
OF: Pete Crow-Armstrong, Mets (No. 5)
OF: Victor Victor Mesa, Marlins (unranked)