Tool Time: Top Ten Defensive Infielders

Who are the infield prospects who have the defensive abilities to play in the big leagues right now? PinstripesPlus.com analyzes the top defensive infielders in the Yankees' farm system, ranking the top ten.

Honorable Mention

SS, Grant Plumley: Like Corona, Plumley's lack of offensive power has forced him into more of a utility role with the Yankees even though he is better suited defensively to play his natural position, shortstop. Plumley has very good range, great hands, and natural defensive instincts. His above average arm at shortstop has given the Yankees the luxury of playing him at third base, a position he has manned more than shortstop in his professional career.

3B, Christopher Malec: There's nothing flashy about Malec's defensive game. In fact, aside from his strong throwing arm, he doesn't exactly have the tools to rank as an elite defensive player. But there are few that can match his intensity in the field and he never gives up on a play. He lacks the range to play shortstop at the professional level but could be a nice second base-third base utility player if his power can come around.

3B, Tim O'Brien: The Yankees' 37th round pick out of San Diego State last year is a fine defensive third baseman with one of the better infield arms in the farm system. In fact, he even got on the mound for one scoreless inning of relief in Staten Island last season. He is very adept at short-hopping balls and he guards the line like an elite defensive third baseman. His bat will have to develop to get his opportunities to showcase his solid defensive game however.

Top Ten Defensive Infielders

10, 2B Reegie Corona: The natural second baseman did just about everything defensively on the field in 2006 except play catcher. His above average speed gives him very good range in the field, enough to man shortstop, second base, and even the outfield. And his solid arm also allows him to play both the outfield and third base. He committed 23 errors in 2006 but 14 of them came while playing out of his natural second base position. While he has the ability to play a multitude of positions on the field, he is at his best when he's playing second base.

9) SS, Eduardo Nunez: Nunez has all the physical tools to rank higher on this list: size, speed, range, arm, and soft hands. But not uncommon for a 19-year old, his play in the field has been quite erratic in his short career. Averaging 29 errors per season over the last two years, Nunez gets himself into trouble trying to showcase his strong arm after using his plus range to get to balls most shortstops couldn't reach. The raw abilities are there to be a great defensive shortstop, he just needs to polish his defensive game and learn when to put the ball in his back pocket instead of making the flashy play.

Cody Ehlers has a career fielding percentage over .990! (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
8) SS, Walter Ibarra: Committing five errors in just 19 games with the Gulf Coast League Yankees in his debut season last year doesn't do his plus defensive abilities justice. Not only does he have great range, soft hands, and a solid arm at shortstop, but he has innate defensive abilities that simply can't be taught. For example, in one particular play last season, Ibarra jumped up and pretended to catch a line drive over his head that he never would have caught. It sent the runner back to second base for just a second or two before the runner realized he was duped and that allowed the centerfielder to gun down the runner attempting to score.

7) 1B, Cody Ehlers: Ehlers doesn't rank as one of the top prospects because of his lack of plus power. But while he is solid offensively, his defensive game ranks among the best in the organization at the first base position. Despite not having great speed, he is extremely agile and he boasts very good range around the bag. A perfectionist by nature, he positions himself very well and he knows what to do in every situation. Throw in the fact he has great hands and scoops the ball out of the dirt, he is an infielder's best friend.

6) 1B, Kevin Smith: Drafted in the 39th round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of the University of Oklahoma, chances are not many will get the opportunity to appreciate his smooth defensive game at first base as he'll have to fight for playing time. He manned first base in just 36 games for the Staten Island Yankees last season as they tried to get his sick glove into the games as much as possible. He has very good range but it's his soft hands and ability to pick the ball out of the dirt that is truly special.

Marcos Vechionacci has the smooth defensive game of a seasoned big league third baseman. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
5) 2B, Gabe Lopez: At a legitimate 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, Lopez doesn't have the physical tools to play any other position but second base, especially because of his below average arm. However, his range ranks among the best in the organization and he can turn the double-play with the best of them as evidenced by the 90 double plays he turned with Battle Creek back in 2003. A potential Gold Glove second baseman, his bat will need to come around as he really has no other position to play, limiting his ability to become a utility player.

4) 3B, Marcos Vechionacci: The Yankees desperately wanted to make 'Nacci' a shortstop to make better use of his bat and he played there primarily until mid-way through the 2005 season in Charleston before switching him over to his natural third base position. While his range was solid at shortstop, his quick reactionary skills and above average arm were made to play the hot corner. He has averaged 22 errors per season over the last two years so the transition is still a work in progress, but at 20-years old, scouts love his defensive future and his smoothness and calm approach are big reasons why.

3) SS, Ramiro Pena: After committing 19 errors in his debut season in 2005, the slick-fielding Pena had 14 more errors in an injury-plagued season last year. His career 33 errors are not an indication of his phenomenal defensive abilities as he collects errors getting to balls most shortstops can't get to with his fantastic range. All Yankees pitchers want to pitch while he is playing defense because they know he's going to make all the routine plays and save a lot of base hits as well. While he technically ranks third in our rankings, his abilities are in line with the top two above him.

2) SS, Alberto Gonzalez: Acquired from the Diamondbacks this offseason in the Randy Johnson deal, Gonzalez has earned the reputation as a top-flight defensive shortstop. He committed just 14 errors in 639 total chances in 132 games last season, all at shortstop. The book on Gonzalez is he has enough range to play an impeccable shortstop in the big leagues and help out at second base as well, and his arm is strong enough to help man third base in emergency situations.

1) 2B, Mario Holmann: Holmann is the human highlight reel at second base. He has incredible range and will make the impossible plays look routine, diving for balls seemingly out of anybody's reach. He has committed just 21 errors in his career thus far and ask anybody who watches him on a daily basis and they'll tell you he not only saves a ton of runs from being scored, but he robs many would-be base hits. His below average arm however limits his opportunities to play other positions so he'll either be a Gold Glove second baseman at the big league level or nothing at all, depending on how his bat develops. He is an all or nothing player from a defensive projection standpoint.

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Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n \r\nHonorable Mention
\r\n
\r\nSS, Grant Plumley: Like Corona, Plumley's lack of offensive power has forced him into more of a utility role with the Yankees even though he is better suited defensively to play his natural position, shortstop. Plumley has very good range, great hands, and natural defensive instincts. His above average arm at shortstop has given the Yankees the luxury of playing him at third base, a position he has manned more than shortstop in his professional career.
\r\n
\r\n3B, Christopher Malec: There's nothing flashy about Malec's defensive game. In fact, aside from his strong throwing arm, he doesn't exactly have the tools to rank as an elite defensive player. But there are few that can match his intensity in the field and he never gives up on a play. He lacks the range to play shortstop at the professional level but could be a nice second base-third base utility player if his power can come around.
\r\n
\r\n3B, Tim O'Brien: The Yankees' 37th round pick out of San Diego State last year is a fine defensive third baseman with one of the better infield arms in the farm system. In fact, he even got on the mound for one scoreless inning of relief in Staten Island last season. He is very adept at short-hopping balls and he guards the line like an elite defensive third baseman. His bat will have to develop to get his opportunities to showcase his solid defensive game however.
\r\n
\r\nTop Ten Defensive Infielders
\r\n
\r\n10, 2B Reegie Corona: The natural second baseman did just about everything defensively on the field in 2006 except play catcher. His above average speed gives him very good range in the field, enough to man shortstop, second base, and even the outfield. And his solid arm also allows him to play both the outfield and third base. He committed 23 errors in 2006 but 14 of them came while playing out of his natural second base position. While he has the ability to play a multitude of positions on the field, he is at his best when he's playing second base.
\r\n
\r\n9) SS, Eduardo Nunez: Nunez has all the physical tools to rank higher on this list: size, speed, range, arm, and soft hands. But not uncommon for a 19-year old, his play in the field has been quite erratic in his short career. Averaging 29 errors per season over the last two years, Nunez gets himself into trouble trying to showcase his strong arm after using his plus range to get to balls most shortstops couldn't reach. The raw abilities are there to be a great defensive shortstop, he just needs to polish his defensive game and learn when to put the ball in his back pocket instead of making the flashy play.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
Cody Ehlers has a career fielding percentage over .990! (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
8) SS, Walter Ibarra: Committing five errors in just 19 games with the Gulf Coast League Yankees in his debut season last year doesn't do his plus defensive abilities justice. Not only does he have great range, soft hands, and a solid arm at shortstop, but he has innate defensive abilities that simply can't be taught. For example, in one particular play last season, Ibarra jumped up and pretended to catch a line drive over his head that he never would have caught. It sent the runner back to second base for just a second or two before the runner realized he was duped and that allowed the centerfielder to gun down the runner attempting to score.
\r\n
\r\n7) 1B, Cody Ehlers: Ehlers doesn't rank as one of the top prospects because of his lack of plus power. But while he is solid offensively, his defensive game ranks among the best in the organization at the first base position. Despite not having great speed, he is extremely agile and he boasts very good range around the bag. A perfectionist by nature, he positions himself very well and he knows what to do in every situation. Throw in the fact he has great hands and scoops the ball out of the dirt, he is an infielder's best friend.
\r\n
\r\n6) 1B, Kevin Smith: Drafted in the 39th round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of the University of Oklahoma, chances are not many will get the opportunity to appreciate his smooth defensive game at first base as he'll have to fight for playing time. He manned first base in just 36 games for the Staten Island Yankees last season as they tried to get his sick glove into the games as much as possible. He has very good range but it's his soft hands and ability to pick the ball out of the dirt that is truly special.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
Marcos Vechionacci has the smooth defensive game of a seasoned big league third baseman. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
5) 2B, Gabe Lopez: At a legitimate 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, Lopez doesn't have the physical tools to play any other position but second base, especially because of his below average arm. However, his range ranks among the best in the organization and he can turn the double-play with the best of them as evidenced by the 90 double plays he turned with Battle Creek back in 2003. A potential Gold Glove second baseman, his bat will need to come around as he really has no other position to play, limiting his ability to become a utility player.
\r\n
\r\n4) 3B, Marcos Vechionacci: The Yankees desperately wanted to make 'Nacci' a shortstop to make better use of his bat and he played there primarily until mid-way through the 2005 season in Charleston before switching him over to his natural third base position. While his range was solid at shortstop, his quick reactionary skills and above average arm were made to play the hot corner. He has averaged 22 errors per season over the last two years so the transition is still a work in progress, but at 20-years old, scouts love his defensive future and his smoothness and calm approach are big reasons why.
\r\n
\r\n3) SS, Ramiro Pena: After committing 19 errors in his debut season in 2005, the slick-fielding Pena had 14 more errors in an injury-plagued season last year. His career 33 errors are not an indication of his phenomenal defensive abilities as he collects errors getting to balls most shortstops can't get to with his fantastic range. All Yankees pitchers want to pitch while he is playing defense because they know he's going to make all the routine plays and save a lot of base hits as well. While he technically ranks third in our rankings, his abilities are in line with the top two above him.
\r\n
\r\n2) SS, Alberto Gonzalez: Acquired from the Diamondbacks this offseason in the Randy Johnson deal, Gonzalez has earned the reputation as a top-flight defensive shortstop. He committed just 14 errors in 639 total chances in 132 games last season, all at shortstop. The book on Gonzalez is he has enough range to play an impeccable shortstop in the big leagues and help out at second base as well, and his arm is strong enough to help man third base in emergency situations.
\r\n
\r\n1) 2B, Mario Holmann: Holmann is the human highlight reel at second base. He has incredible range and will make the impossible plays look routine, diving for balls seemingly out of anybody's reach. He has committed just 21 errors in his career thus far and ask anybody who watches him on a daily basis and they'll tell you he not only saves a ton of runs from being scored, but he robs many would-be base hits. His below average arm however limits his opportunities to play other positions so he'll either be a Gold Glove second baseman at the big league level or nothing at all, depending on how his bat develops. He is an all or nothing player from a defensive projection standpoint.
\r\n
\r\n

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\r\n

\r\n

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