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 - including catchers - in the Yankees farm system, ranking the top ten.

Honorable Mention

C, Francisco Arcia: The Venezuelan native, despite not even making his United States debut yet, is already one of the more solid overall catchers in the farm system. Without a pronounced weakness behind the plate, he has an excellent chance to become the second coming of Cervelli defensively.

3B/SS, Kelvin Castro: We said a year ago Castro was a good defensive player despite his 31 errors in the Dominican Summer League in 2006 and he proceeded to cut out 20 errors last year in the Gulf Coast League. He has great range, a strong arm, and he is very polished making the short-hop play. Castro can be a game-changer defensively.

SS, Reegie Corona: Despite some of the best range, an above average arm, and good hands, Corona struggled in his first full-season as a shortstop last year. He committed 37 errors between high-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, but that is not a good indication of his natural abilities. Prone to losing focus at times, he will often boot the routine play but have no problems with the real difficult ones. He will be a great defensive player with some more consistency.

1B, Cody Ehlers: Easily one of the best defensive first basemen in the Yankees farm system right now, Ehlers' lack of plus power offensively allows him to fly under the radar. A solid offensive player, he is a very good defensive player thanks in large part to his knowledge of the game. He is very adept at positioning himself correctly in the field, is more than agile to have above average range, and he is very good at picking balls out of the dirt.

POLISHED ALREADY: Defensively, Hilligoss is ready for the upper levels. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
3B, Mitch Hilligoss: The former Purdue Boilermaker shortstop has made the move to third base at the professional level and it hasn't come without its setbacks. Committing 17 errors last season, the majority of them came from playing too far in on the grass because of his aggressive nature. Making the adjustment as the season wore on, he backed himself up and that helped improve his range and buy him a little more reaction time. He's not a Gold Glover just yet but he is light years ahead of where he should be for a player making a position change.

C, Jesus Montero: Montero routinely gets unfairly criticized for his defensive abilities by other media sources when in actuality he is quite good on that side of the ball. He has a very strong arm, he's good at blocking balls in the dirt, and he is one of the hardest workers in the farm system. The two immediate areas where he needs to improve is learning how to better work with his pitchers and improving his flexibility. He has come a long way in both areas already and his work ethic suggests they will continue to improve.

C, Austin Romine: Like Arcia, Romine hasn't caught a professional game yet in the United States but has the overall great defensive package to easily jump into the Top Ten in due time. He has one of the strongest arms, a quick release, and makes incredibly accurate throws for such a young player. He is good at working with his pitchers and blocking balls in the dirt. He does need to improve his flexibility and his receiving skills, but few seem concerned he will improve those areas soon.

1B, Kevin Smith: He committed just two errors in 78 games at first base for the Charleston Riverdogs after not committing one in his professional debut season with the Staten Island Yankees in 2006. Drafted in the 39th round that same year out of the University of Oklahoma, his offensive upside is a bit limited and that might relegate him to an organizational player when it's all said and done, but his slick glove work could give him a chance of making it to the big leagues someday.

C, Chase Weems: Like Romine, it's just a matter of time before Weems finds his natural place in these Top Ten rankings someday. His defensive game is nearly a carbon-copy of Romine's as well: a strong arm, quick release, accurate throws, and a good blocker. Also like Romine he has some work to do receiving the ball better but his better flexibility might give him a leg up in setting up his foundation in that regard.

Top Ten Defensive Infielders

10) C, Kyle Anson: Like most catchers beginning their careers, Anson has some work to do refining his overall defensive game. While he could afford to get better at framing pitches, he did make marked improvements in that area last season. He is also very agile behind the plate and a good blocker. But it's his innate ability to throw out runners - armed with the best combination of plus arm strength, quick release, and amazingly accurate throws - that absolutely makes him one of the best defensive players in the farm system.

9) 3B, Jimmy Paredes: Like Anson, it is Paredes' plus-plus arm strength that immediately makes him one of the better defensive prospects. Signed as a switch-hitting shortstop with one of the higher offensive ceilings, he has made a seamless transition to third base and that's where his great arm is better suited anyway. He is very rangy, he has shown an ability to make the short-hop plays, and he can be cat-like quick on the slow rollers. He has Gold Glove potential at the hot corner.

MR. VERSATILE: Snyder is a plus defensive player at more than one position. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
8) SS, Walter Ibarra: Struggling to stay healthy so far in his career, Ibarra has managed to get into just 50 games over the last two seasons and that has allowed his plus defensive game to get overlooked. Like most players in this category, he has all the tools - a good arm, plus range, soft hands. Where Ibarra has a slight edge, however, is with his natural instincts. He will make the 'dupe' play when it calls for it, he knows where to make the necessary throws, and has the ability to make the acrobatic look routine. Staying healthy and stepping up his offensive game would garner him some more attention as one of the better prospects.

7) 2B/CF, Justin Snyder: A natural second baseman who has shown plus range in the field, his rather strong throwing arm and soft hands allows him to fill in quite admirably at both third base and shortstop. His above average speed and ability to read the ball coming off of the bat well also gives him the flexibility to be a plus defensive centerfielder. While he might not be on par at one position like some of the other names ranked behind him, the fact he is a plus defensive player at two different positions and an average to above average at two others makes him one of the more valuable defensive players.

6) SS, Jose Mojica: Getting ready to begin his professional debut in 2008, the Dominican native is already one of the elite defensive infielders in the Yankees organization. He has great range, some of the best lateral movement, soft hands, and an above average arm. He is also quite mature in his makeup, knowing when he can make the plays and when he can't, and that should allow him to avoid making bad mental errors. He is already well equipped to play at the higher minor league levels.

SILKY SMOOTH: Vechionacci is big league ready defensively. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
5) SS, Carmen Angelini: Like Mojica, despite the fact he hasn't played an official minor league game at shortstop yet, it's Angelini's overall polish that already makes him one of the smoothest defensive players in the Yankees minor league system...at any position. And while some team officials believe Mojica could be the better defensive shortstop, we give Angelini a slight edge due to his better overall speed. Otherwise their games are quite similar defensively.

4) 3B, Marcos Vechionacci: The former shortstop is a natural third baseman. He plays the game slowly, making smooth plays on ground balls and calm but strong throws over to first base. He is quite adept making the back-handed play down the line and his good agility gives him great range. His relaxed approach defensively, while it is a plus by avoiding to rush his throws, does make him a bit too complacent at times and that makes him lose focus. He was a bit more consistent in his focus last season and his error totals came down significantly.

3) SS, Eduardo Nunez: Like Vechionacci, Nunez can make quite a few errors each year but it has little to do with his natural abilities. He has plus-plus range, one of the strongest arms in the organization, and can make all the necessary catches. The problem he runs into is, with an ability to get to nearly any ball hit anywhere near him, and with the type of arm to make any throw imaginable, he will often times make an errant play when he is better off holding on to the ball. He simply needs to be smarter in the field more consistently to be one of the better game-changing defensive players in the game.

2) SS, Ramiro Pena: Pena is a smarter and more polished version of Nunez, albeit without that kind of arm strength. He has innate defensive abilities in the field and will make the highlight-reel plays consistently look routine. He literally doesn't have a defensive weakness in his game and could be one of the best defensive shortstops in the big leagues right now - his game is that polished.

1) C, Francisco Cervelli: Like Pena, Cervelli has nothing to work on defensively and could easily rank among some of the best defensive players at his position in the big leagues right now. Like Anson and a few other catching prospects, Cervelli boasts a great combination of plus arm strength, a quick release, and very accurate throws. Where Cervelli has an edge on the other defensive players is in his incredible leadership skills and mental makeup. He not only is a great defensive player, he makes the players around him better and that is quite special.


Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nHonorable Mention
\r\n
\r\nC, Francisco Arcia: The Venezuelan native, despite not even making his United States debut yet, is already one of the more solid overall catchers in the farm system. Without a pronounced weakness behind the plate, he has an excellent chance to become the second coming of Cervelli defensively.
\r\n
\r\n3B/SS, Kelvin Castro: We said a year ago Castro was a good defensive player despite his 31 errors in the Dominican Summer League in 2006 and he proceeded to cut out 20 errors last year in the Gulf Coast League. He has great range, a strong arm, and he is very polished making the short-hop play. Castro can be a game-changer defensively.
\r\n
\r\nSS, Reegie Corona: Despite some of the best range, an above average arm, and good hands, Corona struggled in his first full-season as a shortstop last year. He committed 37 errors between high-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, but that is not a good indication of his natural abilities. Prone to losing focus at times, he will often boot the routine play but have no problems with the real difficult ones. He will be a great defensive player with some more consistency.
\r\n
\r\n1B, Cody Ehlers: Easily one of the best defensive first basemen in the Yankees farm system right now, Ehlers' lack of plus power offensively allows him to fly under the radar. A solid offensive player, he is a very good defensive player thanks in large part to his knowledge of the game. He is very adept at positioning himself correctly in the field, is more than agile to have above average range, and he is very good at picking balls out of the dirt.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
POLISHED ALREADY: Defensively, Hilligoss is ready for the upper levels. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
3B, Mitch Hilligoss: The former Purdue Boilermaker shortstop has made the move to third base at the professional level and it hasn't come without its setbacks. Committing 17 errors last season, the majority of them came from playing too far in on the grass because of his aggressive nature. Making the adjustment as the season wore on, he backed himself up and that helped improve his range and buy him a little more reaction time. He's not a Gold Glover just yet but he is light years ahead of where he should be for a player making a position change.
\r\n
\r\nC, Jesus Montero: Montero routinely gets unfairly criticized for his defensive abilities by other media sources when in actuality he is quite good on that side of the ball. He has a very strong arm, he's good at blocking balls in the dirt, and he is one of the hardest workers in the farm system. The two immediate areas where he needs to improve is learning how to better work with his pitchers and improving his flexibility. He has come a long way in both areas already and his work ethic suggests they will continue to improve.
\r\n
\r\nC, Austin Romine: Like Arcia, Romine hasn't caught a professional game yet in the United States but has the overall great defensive package to easily jump into the Top Ten in due time. He has one of the strongest arms, a quick release, and makes incredibly accurate throws for such a young player. He is good at working with his pitchers and blocking balls in the dirt. He does need to improve his flexibility and his receiving skills, but few seem concerned he will improve those areas soon.
\r\n
\r\n1B, Kevin Smith: He committed just two errors in 78 games at first base for the Charleston Riverdogs after not committing one in his professional debut season with the Staten Island Yankees in 2006. Drafted in the 39th round that same year out of the University of Oklahoma, his offensive upside is a bit limited and that might relegate him to an organizational player when it's all said and done, but his slick glove work could give him a chance of making it to the big leagues someday.
\r\n
\r\nC, Chase Weems: Like Romine, it's just a matter of time before Weems finds his natural place in these Top Ten rankings someday. His defensive game is nearly a carbon-copy of Romine's as well: a strong arm, quick release, accurate throws, and a good blocker. Also like Romine he has some work to do receiving the ball better but his better flexibility might give him a leg up in setting up his foundation in that regard.
\r\n
\r\nTop Ten Defensive Infielders
\r\n
\r\n10) C, Kyle Anson: Like most catchers beginning their careers, Anson has some work to do refining his overall defensive game. While he could afford to get better at framing pitches, he did make marked improvements in that area last season. He is also very agile behind the plate and a good blocker. But it's his innate ability to throw out runners - armed with the best combination of plus arm strength, quick release, and amazingly accurate throws - that absolutely makes him one of the best defensive players in the farm system.
\r\n
\r\n9) 3B, Jimmy Paredes: Like Anson, it is Paredes' plus-plus arm strength that immediately makes him one of the better defensive prospects. Signed as a switch-hitting shortstop with one of the higher offensive ceilings, he has made a seamless transition to third base and that's where his great arm is better suited anyway. He is very rangy, he has shown an ability to make the short-hop plays, and he can be cat-like quick on the slow rollers. He has Gold Glove potential at the hot corner.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
MR. VERSATILE: Snyder is a plus defensive player at more than one position. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
8) SS, Walter Ibarra: Struggling to stay healthy so far in his career, Ibarra has managed to get into just 50 games over the last two seasons and that has allowed his plus defensive game to get overlooked. Like most players in this category, he has all the tools - a good arm, plus range, soft hands. Where Ibarra has a slight edge, however, is with his natural instincts. He will make the 'dupe' play when it calls for it, he knows where to make the necessary throws, and has the ability to make the acrobatic look routine. Staying healthy and stepping up his offensive game would garner him some more attention as one of the better prospects.
\r\n
\r\n7) 2B/CF, Justin Snyder: A natural second baseman who has shown plus range in the field, his rather strong throwing arm and soft hands allows him to fill in quite admirably at both third base and shortstop. His above average speed and ability to read the ball coming off of the bat well also gives him the flexibility to be a plus defensive centerfielder. While he might not be on par at one position like some of the other names ranked behind him, the fact he is a plus defensive player at two different positions and an average to above average at two others makes him one of the more valuable defensive players.
\r\n
\r\n6) SS, Jose Mojica: Getting ready to begin his professional debut in 2008, the Dominican native is already one of the elite defensive infielders in the Yankees organization. He has great range, some of the best lateral movement, soft hands, and an above average arm. He is also quite mature in his makeup, knowing when he can make the plays and when he can't, and that should allow him to avoid making bad mental errors. He is already well equipped to play at the higher minor league levels.
\r\n
\r\n\r\n
SILKY SMOOTH: Vechionacci is big league ready defensively. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)
5) SS, Carmen Angelini: Like Mojica, despite the fact he hasn't played an official minor league game at shortstop yet, it's Angelini's overall polish that already makes him one of the smoothest defensive players in the Yankees minor league system...at any position. And while some team officials believe Mojica could be the better defensive shortstop, we give Angelini a slight edge due to his better overall speed. Otherwise their games are quite similar defensively.
\r\n
\r\n4) 3B, Marcos Vechionacci: The former shortstop is a natural third baseman. He plays the game slowly, making smooth plays on ground balls and calm but strong throws over to first base. He is quite adept making the back-handed play down the line and his good agility gives him great range. His relaxed approach defensively, while it is a plus by avoiding to rush his throws, does make him a bit too complacent at times and that makes him lose focus. He was a bit more consistent in his focus last season and his error totals came down significantly.
\r\n
\r\n3) SS, Eduardo Nunez: Like Vechionacci, Nunez can make quite a few errors each year but it has little to do with his natural abilities. He has plus-plus range, one of the strongest arms in the organization, and can make all the necessary catches. The problem he runs into is, with an ability to get to nearly any ball hit anywhere near him, and with the type of arm to make any throw imaginable, he will often times make an errant play when he is better off holding on to the ball. He simply needs to be smarter in the field more consistently to be one of the better game-changing defensive players in the game.
\r\n
\r\n2) SS, Ramiro Pena: Pena is a smarter and more polished version of Nunez, albeit without that kind of arm strength. He has innate defensive abilities in the field and will make the highlight-reel plays consistently look routine. He literally doesn't have a defensive weakness in his game and could be one of the best defensive shortstops in the big leagues right now - his game is that polished.
\r\n
\r\n1) C, Francisco Cervelli: Like Pena, Cervelli has nothing to work on defensively and could easily rank among some of the best defensive players at his position in the big leagues right now. Like Anson and a few other catching prospects, Cervelli boasts a great combination of plus arm strength, a quick release, and very accurate throws. Where Cervelli has an edge on the other defensive players is in his incredible leadership skills and mental makeup. He not only is a great defensive player, he makes the players around him better and that is quite special.
\r\n
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