MMLN: Top Tools – Infield Defense

From watching the farm system this year, it is no secret the bulk of the standout defense remains in the outfield. Nevertheless, there is a collection of prospects making strong impressions in the infield. The tools vary in strength, but these ten prospects can call themselves the ten best defensive infielders in the organization.

10. 3B Brian Harrison – The error totals were not pretty in Harrison's first year (12 in 35 games in Brooklyn), but numbers do not tell the whole story. Harrison plays the ball well and demonstrated good lateral movement to both sides. He has a strong arm for a third baseman, but bouts of wildness increased his error total. He still has work to do learning to make plays on the move. Harrison could stick at third base for a couple more seasons, but organizational traffic head of him may not make that possible.

9. 2B Reese Havens – Havens is still in the midst of making his full-time transition to second base. In limited time and observance this year, Havens appears to be making a successful move but is not quite there yet. He is still limited in his range, especially to his left, but looks very good around the second base bag with quick foot work and a reasonably quick trigger on double plays. He does not have the agility to make the charging play expected of second baseman and plays in the hole are still a challenge, but Havens is slowly and surely putting it together.

8. 2B, J.B. Brown – With a pretty thin crop of second baseman asserting themselves in the system right now, it was a pleasant surprise to see a mid-round pick come in and play a strong second base. His collegiate experience at three infield positions provided him a unique blend of a stable base, quick reactions and strong ball-handling that aided in his transition to a full-time second base role this year. He has a strong infielder's arm and is smooth around the bag on double-plays. Brown boasts natural athleticism that becomes evident especially when charging the ball. Brown does not have truly standout tool but is simply a well-rounded second baseman.

7. SS Rylan Sandoval – Sandoval's standing as a prospect will not land him on many lists, but one list he deserves recognition is for his defense. He owns one of the strongest shortstop arms in the organization and boasts very good range. He can be a bit sloppy at times with his transfer which is the source of most of his errors; his footwork, release and ability to turn the double-play should keep him around as a roving infielder in the organization.

6. SS/2B Robbie Shields – Shields did not see much time in the field after returning from Tommy John surgery and while there are questions about where he ends up long term defensively, he has shown enough to land him in the middle of the pack in this category. Shields' agility and quickness is only average to slightly above average, but he has very good balance and rarely plays the ball to his side when on the move. His arm is only average for a shortstop which will make second base the more likely option for his future.

5. 1B Stefan Welch – Welch does not possess any stand out tools, but he does a very good job of using his big frame to keep balls in front of him and ranging to make plays. He is tall and lean and does not have much pure athleticism, but he has quick reactions and uses every bit of his height and reach to his advantage. He has improved at picking balls out of the dirt and is an accurate thrower despite owning only slightly above average arm strength.

4. SS Wilmer Flores – Flores has made big strides defensively to this point, strides many scouts thought he would not make at any point as it relates to become a well-rounded defensive shortstop. Flores still faces concerns about his range and whether or not the lack of it will keep him at shortstop. Nevertheless, he took significant steps to improve his footwork and the way he in which he plays the ball. In previous years, Flores would let the ball play him. Now he is more balanced and possesses much softer hands. His arm strength has never been a concern, but again will he develop the range to stick?

3. C Kai Gronauer – Gronauer is finally starting to come around with the bat, but it is his prowess behind the plate that has improved his stock in a big way this season. He isn't the quickest catcher one will see in the minor league circuits, but has good enough mobility to keep balls in front of his body when moving to either side. He is the best framer of pitches in the organization and has a strong throwing arm that will play at higher levels.

2. 2B Jordany Valdespin – The one thing many may point to when it comes to Valdespin's defense is his error total, and there is no fault in doing so. Valdespin did not have the cleanest stat sheet this season as he committed 23 errors in 93 games between St. Lucie and Binghamton. Yet, Valdespin can cut down on those numbers simply by playing a more disciplined style of defense. He still has a habit for trying to make the big play when it is not there and while he has a very strong arm, he needs a better feel of when to simply eat the ball rather than make a poor decision. He has very good footwork, is excellent around the base bag and moves well in all directions.

1. SS Wilfredo Tovar – It was not a difficult decision here. Tovar is the unquestioned choice for top defensive infielder. He has all the tools one would want from a shortstop: excellent range, ideal footwork, excellent technique around the bag, a strong arm and a hair trigger. What makes Tovar unique is that he rarely needs to dive for the ball unless it is outside his plus range. He does an excellent job of getting his body in front of the ball even when he needs to range a distance.


Putting together this list was a tricky scenario as the organization simply does not have a deep pool of strong defensive infield talent. For the most part there are offensive-first prospects who are trying to catch up with their defense like Havens, Harrison, Shields, and even Flores to an extent. Perhaps the expectation was to see Aderlin Rodriguez or Jefry Marte on this list, but they too are very much offensive first prospects who are still very raw with the glove and could face a position switch in the future. Even after putting the list together, I only have confidence that the top three players RIGHT NOW can play big league caliber defense at their listed positions. There are still too many unanswered questions for the rest of the list. While there is an abundance of high-quality outfield defenders, the infield needs work.


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\n10. 3B Brian Harrison – The error totals were not pretty in Harrison's first year (12 in 35 games in Brooklyn), but numbers do not tell the whole story. Harrison plays the ball well and demonstrated good lateral movement to both sides. He has a strong arm for a third baseman, but bouts of wildness increased his error total. He still has work to do learning to make plays on the move. Harrison could stick at third base for a couple more seasons, but organizational traffic head of him may not make that possible.
\r\n
\r\n9. 2B Reese Havens – Havens is still in the midst of making his full-time transition to second base. In limited time and observance this year, Havens appears to be making a successful move but is not quite there yet. He is still limited in his range, especially to his left, but looks very good around the second base bag with quick foot work and a reasonably quick trigger on double plays. He does not have the agility to make the charging play expected of second baseman and plays in the hole are still a challenge, but Havens is slowly and surely putting it together.
\r\n
\r\n8. 2B, J.B. Brown – With a pretty thin crop of second baseman asserting themselves in the system right now, it was a pleasant surprise to see a mid-round pick come in and play a strong second base. His collegiate experience at three infield positions provided him a unique blend of a stable base, quick reactions and strong ball-handling that aided in his transition to a full-time second base role this year. He has a strong infielder's arm and is smooth around the bag on double-plays. Brown boasts natural athleticism that becomes evident especially when charging the ball. Brown does not have truly standout tool but is simply a well-rounded second baseman.
\r\n
\r\n7. SS Rylan Sandoval – Sandoval's standing as a prospect will not land him on many lists, but one list he deserves recognition is for his defense. He owns one of the strongest shortstop arms in the organization and boasts very good range. He can be a bit sloppy at times with his transfer which is the source of most of his errors; his footwork, release and ability to turn the double-play should keep him around as a roving infielder in the organization.
\r\n
\r\n6. SS/2B Robbie Shields – Shields did not see much time in the field after returning from Tommy John surgery and while there are questions about where he ends up long term defensively, he has shown enough to land him in the middle of the pack in this category. Shields' agility and quickness is only average to slightly above average, but he has very good balance and rarely plays the ball to his side when on the move. His arm is only average for a shortstop which will make second base the more likely option for his future.
\r\n
\r\n5. 1B Stefan Welch – Welch does not possess any stand out tools, but he does a very good job of using his big frame to keep balls in front of him and ranging to make plays. He is tall and lean and does not have much pure athleticism, but he has quick reactions and uses every bit of his height and reach to his advantage. He has improved at picking balls out of the dirt and is an accurate thrower despite owning only slightly above average arm strength.
\r\n
\r\n4. SS Wilmer Flores – Flores has made big strides defensively to this point, strides many scouts thought he would not make at any point as it relates to become a well-rounded defensive shortstop. Flores still faces concerns about his range and whether or not the lack of it will keep him at shortstop. Nevertheless, he took significant steps to improve his footwork and the way he in which he plays the ball. In previous years, Flores would let the ball play him. Now he is more balanced and possesses much softer hands. His arm strength has never been a concern, but again will he develop the range to stick?
\r\n
\r\n3. C Kai Gronauer – Gronauer is finally starting to come around with the bat, but it is his prowess behind the plate that has improved his stock in a big way this season. He isn't the quickest catcher one will see in the minor league circuits, but has good enough mobility to keep balls in front of his body when moving to either side. He is the best framer of pitches in the organization and has a strong throwing arm that will play at higher levels.
\r\n
\r\n2. 2B Jordany Valdespin – The one thing many may point to when it comes to Valdespin's defense is his error total, and there is no fault in doing so. Valdespin did not have the cleanest stat sheet this season as he committed 23 errors in 93 games between St. Lucie and Binghamton. Yet, Valdespin can cut down on those numbers simply by playing a more disciplined style of defense. He still has a habit for trying to make the big play when it is not there and while he has a very strong arm, he needs a better feel of when to simply eat the ball rather than make a poor decision. He has very good footwork, is excellent around the base bag and moves well in all directions.
\r\n
\r\n1. SS Wilfredo Tovar – It was not a difficult decision here. Tovar is the unquestioned choice for top defensive infielder. He has all the tools one would want from a shortstop: excellent range, ideal footwork, excellent technique around the bag, a strong arm and a hair trigger. What makes Tovar unique is that he rarely needs to dive for the ball unless it is outside his plus range. He does an excellent job of getting his body in front of the ball even when he needs to range a distance.
\r\n
\r\n
\r\nPutting together this list was a tricky scenario as the organization simply does not have a deep pool of strong defensive infield talent. For the most part there are offensive-first prospects who are trying to catch up with their defense like Havens, Harrison, Shields, and even Flores to an extent. Perhaps the expectation was to see Aderlin Rodriguez or Jefry Marte on this list, but they too are very much offensive first prospects who are still very raw with the glove and could face a position switch in the future. Even after putting the list together, I only have confidence that the top three players RIGHT NOW can play big league caliber defense at their listed positions. There are still too many unanswered questions for the rest of the list. While there is an abundance of high-quality outfield defenders, the infield needs work.
\r\n
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