SS, Walter Ibarra: Defensively, there are few who are better than Ibarra. He has amazing range, soft hands, a solid arm, and he makes all of the intangible plays that hard to gauge statistically. In fact he is more than ready for the big leagues defensively right now. However, his less than potent bat clouds his long-term value to the organization and that keeps him out of the Top Ten until he can find a more concrete role with the Yankees. He has a shot as a possible utility man someday and it's because of his defensive prowess.
SS, Addison Maruszak: Maruszak is a rare case at shortstop indeed. He doesn't have the greatest range around and he doesn't have the natural ability to place himself correctly in the field, but yet his plus-plus arm makes him one of the better defensive options. His arm strength allows him to hide his other defensive shortcomings, but the good news is he has gotten better at putting himself in better defensive position and improving his range. He's not the best defensive player, but his arm strength and work ethic could make him a Top Ten guy down the road.
1B, Kevin Smith: Like Ibarra, Smith is one of the more outstanding defensive players in the organization, but his sub-par power at a power-hitting position might not allow him to showcase his plus defensive game at the big league level someday. He has just eight combined errors in his first three professional seasons and his combination of range and soft hands are second to none. A not-so-outlandish idea would be to possibly test him at second base where his offensive game is better suited. His incredible range at first suggests he could possibly handle the transition.
2B, Justin Snyder: It was a weird year for the Charleston middle infielders last season, as evidenced by Snyder's season. Even though he has some plus defensive abilities, he was still charged with 27 errors last season. He has great range, soft hands, and a good arm at second base. Playing a multitude of positions the year before, however, had him a bit erratic in the field and he did have some problems making the pivots when turning double-plays. He should have a much better defensive showing this coming season. He's just too good not to.
C, Chase Weems: Weems is one of the more naturally gifted defensive backstops in the organization, but he did have some problems showing it consistently in his debut season last year. He has quick feet, a strong arm, a quick release, and he is a good receiver behind the plate. Weems seemed to get a bit erratic last season, however, and sometimes bad plays would snowball into mini-slumps defensively. The basic package is there though to be a special player in due time.
Top Ten Defensive Infielders
10) C, Kyle Higashioka - Like Bradley Suttle [see below], last year's seventh-round pick won't dazzle many with plus tools but he is one of the more consistent players at his position. He doesn't have one of the best arms in the organization, but he does have a very quick release and he makes very accurate throws. He also is one of the better receivers around. He frames pitches well, he knows where to go with his throws, his head is always in the game, and he has a knack for working well with his pitchers. Higashioka is also one of those natural leaders and as a result he's perfect for quarterbacking his team defensively.
9) C, Kyle Anson: There aren't many catchers at the professional level [including the big leagues] that have Anson's combination of plus arm strength, quick release, and accuracy. It's simply special. The former third baseman [where he was also one of the best defensive players] has gotten much better at receiving the ball and framing pitches, and he has shown better footwork around the plate. The biggest area that needs improvement right now is his rapport with his pitchers. He can get a little stubborn calling for certain pitches and that is a detriment for getting on the same page with them.
|GETTING BETTER: Romine, already good behind the plate, continues to get better and better. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
7) C, Austin Romine: Romine has all of the natural abilities to be a special defensive catcher - a very strong arm, a quick release, soft hands, and excellent game-calling skills. He improved immensely on his setup behind the plate and his footwork, so much so his pump-times on throws to second were consistently under 2.00 seconds by season's end. He also got better receiving the ball and framing pitches. With his tremendous work ethic and excellent defensive foundation already, he has the chance to be Francisco Cervelli-like behind the plate by the time he gets to the big leagues and that is quite special.
6) SS, Jose Mojica: One of the Yankees' top International signings back in 2007, Mojica never got to flash his leather last year after tearing his ACL late in Spring Training. However, while most observers haven't had the chance to see him in the field yet, he is still one of the best around. Despite lacking true plus base-running speed, he has great range. He also has arguably the best combination of plus arm strength and quickest release. There aren't many plays he can't make.
|NOT TOOLSY, BUT STEADY: Suttle won't dazzle in the field, but he's 'Steady Eddy' with the glove. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
4) SS, Carmen Angelini: Ranking a player who had 42 errors in one season [although it should be pointed out it was his professional debut season] this high might come as a surprise. But judging a player on minor league error totals is often times an exercise in futility. Throw his numbers out - he is much, much better than they reveal. He has plus range, soft hands, and a solid arm. But what separates Angelini from most is his innate ability to make the head's up plays that don't show up in the box scores - juking guys back to base with a head-bob on a line-drive that goes over his head, knowing where to throw the ball in all situations, etc, etc.
3) 3B, Marcos Vechionacci: 'Nacci' seemingly has been around forever, but the fact is he is still only 22-years old. A former shortstop, he has always been a natural third baseman and he's one of the smoothest defensive players around with his strong arm and steady composure. His biggest strength is ironically also his biggest weakness - he is very calm in the field and never gets erratic, but sometimes his calmness becomes too complacent when he could use a little more sense of urgency. Otherwise, he can make all of the necessary plays and he is more than ready for the big leagues defensively.
2) SS, Eduardo Nunez: The slick-fielding shortstop has all of the natural physical abilities to be outstanding defensively - a plus arm [strong enough for any position], plus-plus range, and he can really pick it out of the dirt. His biggest problem to date has been losing focus on routine plays when he takes bad at-bats into the field with him, and when he tries to make every play imaginable when sometimes the best play is just eating the ball rather than attempting to make the impossible play. He is getting more consistent in this aspect of his defensive game, but make no mistake, he has Gold Glove ability.
1) SS, Ramiro Pena: The Mexican native clearly has the best overall defensive game in the organization...and that's including the big league level too. He has all of the physical tools of Nunez, but makes plays a bit more consistently. He has superb range, great hands, an above average arm that could even man third base in a pinch, and natural instincts. Pena is a game-changer in the field and even though he has played all of his 334 professional games at shortstop, the smart money says the Yankees will start transitioning him to the utility role this coming season.