When fans, analysts, and experts alike begin to determine a player's value, defense is often second nature. It doesn't jump off the back of a baseball card like Albert Pujols' home run totals, Ryan Howard's RBI totals, or Jose Reyes' stolen bases. However, defense is a crucial part of the game of baseball. It makes great offensive players elite, and players who lack the offensive wherewithall a positive outlook on their game.
So, how do you go about ranking the best defensive players in baseball?
It's no simple task. First, you must take into consideration that not every player plays the same position. A second baseman, for example, must make all the routine plays with ease, and provide good range to both his left and right side, and have the cunning to make up one half of a double play combination. An outfielder, on the other hand, must have a bevy of tools at his disposal, including range, skill with the glove, athleticism, and a strong arm. How do you rate one over the other?
A second challenge is the number of SABRmetric statistics that the baseball world has to offer, or more directly, their inaccuracy. For example, Juan Pierre's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one of the best in the game, but the man has no arm and couldn't throw out a runner if his life depended on it. Combined with any normal statistics, like fielding percentage and errors, and it is hard to get an accurate measure, so those have been taken with a grain of salt.
Finally, the recipient of the Gold Glove Award will have absolutely no measure on a player's positioning in the rankings. While it shows that a player has earned respect for his defense, the Gold Glove Award is voted on by a number of different players and coaches, and does not provide an accurate measure of a player's defense. I think Derek Jeter, while a great defensive shortstop, winning the award this year over Elvis Andrus is a perfect example.
So how were the rankings calculated? I took into consideration a number of different things. For the first and maybe last time, stats did not play a large role in my rankings. While I looked at and evaluated things like fielding percentage, UZR, runs saved, and errors, I found that defense is hard to put on the back of a baseball card. One of the things that played a large part in my ranking was longevity. I didn't exclude any young defensive wizards like Andrus, but veterans got a big thumbs up. I also looked at a player's "tools," so arm strength and range were also big factors.
So, without any more of a drawn out explanation, here are the 30 greatest defensive players in the MLB today.
*Thought about the rankings some, and made a few changes. Thanks for the feedback BR community! As always, your opinions matter to me the most!
I came very close to adding Carlos Ruiz to this list. He is a very talented defensive catcher that has the daunting task of handling a super rotation in Philadelphia, as well as a closer that has one of the best sliders in baseball. However, I had trouble taking other players off the list, so if this was a ranking of the 31 best players in baseball, Ruiz would be number 31.
One of the things that I took into consideration when compiling this list was how good these players would be defensively moving forward in 2011. If Torii Hunter was still playing center field, he would probably be on this list as one of the best to ever play the game. However, I think baseball in general was largely disappointed with his shift to right field in 2010. The Angels should have never moved him there, and they may just regret that decision moving forward. He looked lost out there at times.
Originally part of the top 30, I've come to agree with the consensus that Jacoby Ellsbury still has something to prove at the major league level. After a full, healthy season, Ellsbury's range and top quality glove work should more than qualify him for this list heading into the 2012 season.
Cliff Pennington broke on to the scene with his first great defensive season in 2010. However, after two straight seasons with negative UZR and little major league experience, I don't think he's ready to be placed into the rankings. He showed good range and a strong arm, great qualities for a young shortstop to have moving forward.
Before being traded to Oakland, Kevin Kouzmanoff was a borderline butcher in the field. He made strong strides to improve his game at third base once arriving in the Colliseum, however, not enough to make the list. The third base pool is very strong, and as "Kouz" develops, there is an off chance that he could crack the rankings. He'll need to make more accurate throws, utilize his strong arm, and continue to improve his range, things that aren't easy to do as you get older.
The same argument is going to be made for Chase Headley. 2010 was his first full season at first base, after playing left field for the Padres in 2009. He looked solid, and showed an outfielder's range at third base. However, he needs to work on his throws and taking ground balls. With a little luck and down defensive years from some players on this list, he could crack the rankings as well. The defensive talent at third base is strong.
Ryan Zimmerman, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He could be on the move to the other side of the infield, according to some experts. I gave him some credit for having to throw to a terrible defensive first baseman in Adam Dunn last year, but Dunn wasn't to blame entirely. Though Zimmerman has good range and glovework, his arm has been declining over each of the last three seasons. The Nationals missed out on Derek Lee, but could still see a defensive upgrade with Adam LaRoche possibly taking over at first base. This will be the "make or break" year for Zimmerman.
Alexei Ramirez is one of the most talented young shortstops in baseball. With youth, however, comes inexperience. He showed great range in 2010, and UZR favored him highly. Growing pains seemed to be a bit of a problem for Ramirez in 2010, but that is to be expected of any young player still adjusting to life in at the major league level. Now entering his fourth major league season, Ramirez has shown steady improvement over the first three, and while his offense has been steady, his defense has improved greatly.
Another great defensive season will push him further up the list, without a doubt. He needs to show that consistency isn't an issue. He made 20 errors in 2010, many of which could have been avoided. Even still, he posted a strong fielding percentage, and should become one of the league's best defensive shortstops in the coming seasons.
In this year's off-season, a couple of things have become apparent about Adrian Beltre. One of the more unfavorable facts is that he performs ridiculously well in contract years, but that isn't the debate. One of Scott Boras' selling points on Beltre is that he is a great defensive player, and while I agree that he is, he hasn't done anything all that impressive.
Beltre has a few great tools, for instance, his range and arm at third base are of the top quality. However, he also displays a few unwanted characteristics on the hot corner, negative tools that I'm going to call the "daydreamer" and the "wrecking ball" just for the fun of it. The daydreamer refers to his inabillity to make conscious efforts in foul territory. At times, he could make the highlight reel with ease, and at others, he looks like a lost puppy chasing a cat back into the stands. The wrecking ball is fairly obvious. He shows no conscious effort to avoid other players when chasing down a fly ball, and Jacoby Ellsbury can attest to that.
His 2010 season wasn't all that spectacular defensively either. He committed 19 errors at the hot corner, good for a fielding percentage of .957. So, while he is certainly a top 30 defensive player in baseball, I'm not willing to move him much higher until he shows that he can make all the plays with ease, and not just the ones that make the highlight reel.
When the St. Louis Cardinals traded Brendan Ryan to the Seattle Mariners in the off-season and called acquiring Ryan Theriot an "upgrade," I had to question their decision making. Ryan is notoriously weak with the bat, but it was his stellar defense at shortstop that made him appealing. On the other hand, Theriot had a couple of good seasons with the Chicago Cubs, none of them phenomenal, and more importantly, a majority of them at second base. His offense in 2010 wasn't much better than Ryan's, and he is nowhere near the caliber shortstop defensively. The fact that Ryan may just save more runs than he drives in is not really a compliment, but it shows he belongs on this list.
He has very good tools from the shortstop position, including an incredible range and strong arm. Accuracy will be an area he can improve on moving forward, as a majority of his errors are of the throwing variety. Otherwise, he is like a vacuum on the field. Balls that seem destined to find a hole more than often find his glove, and most of his "run saving" comes that way. He committed 17 errors in 2010, but his fielding percentage was .974. He gets a ton of chances, and converts most of them.
So when initial reports indicated that the Seattle Mariners had acquired him for his great mustache, I knew immediately that it was because his outstanding glove really fits their style.
As with every list, there are players who are accidentally snubbed and left off. I'm not sure how I missed Troy Tulowitzki after the first go around, but he is far too talented to be left off of the list on purpose. Though he missed a significant amount of time due to injury in 2010, Tulowitzki proved that he can still play a great shortstop. He is a unique player, to say the least. At 6'3, 215lbs, he is a big guy, for a shortstop. Though some experts have suggested that a shift to the corner infield could be a possibility for "Tulo" in the future, his play at shortstop has far from suggested that.
Even after missing time in 2010, he made just seven errors in the field, and UZR favored him highly. With great range to both sides of his body, especially in the holes, and a strong arm from where ever he stands, the Colorado Rockies are sitting comfortably knowing that their prized shortstop will be hanging around for a long time. Now, Tulowitzki must focus on staying healthy, and making sure that those wrists are at 100% before the season begins.
Evan Longoria has all the potential to go on a good run of winning the Gold Glove in the American League at third base. He has a few things working in his favor, the first of which is the fact that he was blessed with great baseball talent. He is good range and a great reaction time at third base, but like Andrus, struggles with some of the more routine plays. Unlike Andrus, however, he can't use the excuse that he didn't have a good defensive first baseman on his team. The second factor is that most of the great defensive third baseman reside in the National League, and the competition for his Gold Glove isn't all that great.
Longoria had another good defensive season in 2010, committing 14 errors and posting a fielding percentage of .966. He had a very similar season to Andrus, but the fact that he plays in that outdated ball park in St. Petersburg presented more of a challenge, in my eyes. He is arguably the best defensive third baseman in the American League, and with Adrian Beltre in free agent limbo, there isn't much of an argument at all. He should continue his impressive play at third base, and I can't see anyone unseating him for the American League Gold Glove in 2011.
Franklin Gutierrez is one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball, and as that 405 sign shows in the picture, he mans one of the most spacious outfields in baseball in Seattle's Saefco Field. His greatest tools are athleticism and range, which he displays to the highest degree, and both are needed to be a successful center fielder in Seattle. Then again, playing along side of Ichiro Suzuki couldn't hurt either.
Gutierrez is a man of fundamentals. He makes all the routine plays, and makes the tough ones look easy. In fact, he made all the plays in 2010, going the whole season without committing a single error. For that reason alone, I had a tough time ranking him this low on the list. The more that I looked at his competition, however, I realized that his two outfield assists weren't going to cut it. So while the fact that he didn't commit a single error was impressive, the disparity wasn't that great between him and other outfielders, who more than made for their couple of errors with stronger arms.
Gutierrez's incredible range and athleticism get him the nod here.
Chase Utley is one of the National League's top second baseman, but like many Phillies in 2010, his season was shortened thanks to a nasty thumb injury, an injury that hurt his defense more than anything. Despite that, Utley has the tools to be a great defensive player. He has a great knowledge of the game of baseball, and on top of that, the athleticism and range at second base to cover a lot of ground. The Phillies have watched Utley mature over the years, and one thing that has become apparent is that the double play combination of Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins is one of the most exciting in baseball.
Though he doesn't have any Gold Gloves to his name, thanks in large part to another man on this list, his defense has not gone unrecognized. He was awarded the Fielding Bible's award of the best second baseman of 2010, despite missing time with injury. In the long run, I think the Gold Glove award went to the right person, however.
When Derek Jeter was announced as the recipient of the Gold Glove Award of the top American League shortstop in 2010, most of the baseball world was in an uproar, and at first, I joined them. It seemed like Elvis Andrus had been robbed of the award by Jeter's star power. Now, the more I look at it, the more it seems like the gap between Jeter and Andrus wasn't all that spectacular.
In just his second season with the Texas Rangers, Andrus turned some heads with his defensive abilities. He has all the makings of a great, young shortstop: a powerful arm, good accuracy, athleticism, and incredible range. He also showed something that a lot of young players in general show at the major league level -- the need for some time to adjust. While the talent is there, Andrus made some questionable errors -- 16 to be exact -- the majority of which were rookie, fundamental mistakes, like not keeping his head down on the ball. Even still, he boasted a strong fielding percentage of .976, and pushed his way into consideration for a Gold Glove.
In my own personal opinion, within the next few years, Andrus could be a top ten, or maybe even top five, defensive player. He just needs some time to adjust to the speed of the major league game.
The Houston Astros easily have one of the most underrated defensive outfields in all of baseball, mainly in thanks to Carlos Lee in left field, despite not being the complete butcher that everyone makes him out to be. However, one of the highlights of this outfield is left fielder, Hunter Pence.
Pence has great baseball talent, and looks very comfortable in the outfield. He has great range and athleticism, and rarely makes himself look outmatched going back on the ball. He boasts a very strong arm, and can throw out runners at third base and home plate with great frequency. As such, he made just six errors in 2010 to go along with nine outfield assists.
He is quietly flying under the radar as one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball.
When the Philadelphia Phillies made a three yer commitment to Placido Polanco, they knew that they were getting a Gold Glove second baseman. They didn't want him to play second base, however, with Chase Utley on board. When they asked him to return to Philadelphia to play third base, Polanco was all for it. There were instant questions about his ability to man the hot corner, especially since it later became apparent that the Phillies made a strong offer for free agent third baseman, Adrian Beltre.
Polanco didn't miss a beat. He looked like he had been playing third base every day over the course of his career, showing great hands, excellent range, and good reaction time. He made most of the routine plays to third base with ease, and showed that he could make the big, highlight reel plays as well. The only thing stopping him from winning the National League's Gold Glove was one of the greatest defensive third baseman to ever play the game.
Polanco committed just five errors, and posted a strong fielding percentage of .986. It'll be highly interesting to see what Polanco is able to do in his second full season as the Philadelphia Phillies' third baseman, with a healthy elbow.
In a season that the New York Mets would like to forget, they received at least one pleasant surprise in rookie first baseman, Ike Davis. Along with posting good offensive numbers, Davis established himself as one of the National League's top defensive first baseman. If the first base pool wasn't so deep, he'd probably be higher on this list.
One of the lone bright spots on that Mets team, Davis committed just nine errors, and boasted a fielding percentage of .993. He made a name for himself in foul territory, making several catches by leaning over the dugout, and more often than not, falling in, making great use of the "hug on to the railing" technique.
Moving forward, Davis could become one of the National League's premier first baseman with a bit of experience.
Jay Bruce became quite notorious during the 2010 post-season for making one of the ugliest errors of the season against the Phillies, losing the ball in the lights and allowing the Phillies to score several runs. However, that was the low point of a season filled with defensive highs. He emerged as one of the top defensive corner outfielders in baseball, making just three errors and boasting seven outfield assists. The Reds were so proud of his combination of offensive and defensive prowess, that they signed him to a six year contract.
Bruce possesses some of the best tools you could ask for in a young corner outfielder, including a very strong arm, above average range, and good speed. Some of the flaws in his game, like going back on the ball, can be fixed with practice and experience.
Mark Ellis is easily one of the most underrated second baseman in baseball. While names like Chase Utley and Robinson Cano are hogging the lime light with their offensive prowess and defensive skill, Ellis flies under the radar with well above average defense. He has great range to both sides of his body, and turns double plays with the best of them. Though arm strength isn't a huge factor in valuing a second baseman, Ellis makes consistently strong throws from the second base bag.
He made just three errors in 2010, and his fielding percentage of .995 shows that he makes more than just the average plays. Making plays over his shoulder into the outfield isn't much of a problem, and he has the athleticism to make plays in foul territory behind first base. Playing for the A's isn't going to boost his popularity, but he'll continue to be one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball.
There are few third baseman to have played the game that can say that they were a better defensive third baseman than Scott Rolen. From the time he made his debut with the Philadelphia Phillies to his 2010 season with the Cincinnati Reds, Rolen has been one of the top third baseman in baseball. Though he really needs no explanation, Rolen boasts one of the strongest arms in the game, making throws to first base in foul territory. Few balls hit his way ever get by him, and those that do are certainly no routine plays.
Rolen made eight errors in 2010 and posted a fielding percentage of just .977, but that is no testament to his defensive skill. With declining health, he may be just a shell of his former self, but even that shell is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game.
Most baseball experts expected Carl Crawford to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim when the off-season began, so to say that he ended up with the Boston Red Sox and their mammoth payroll is a bit of a shocker. The Red Sox are getting more than a speedster at the top of their order, and more than just an offensive player in general. Crawford is built like a center fielder -- great speed, range, and athleticism -- but has manned left field over the course of his career.
Normally, I wouldn't list anyone transitioning to Fenway's left field this high, but if anyone can handle the Green Monster with ease, it would have to be Crawford. After all, he didn't enjoy the easiest of territories in Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field, with a dome nearly the same color as the ball. Spending his entire career in the American League East is also something that Crawford will benefit from -- he's played in Fenway many times.
I expect Fenway to cater well to Crawford's skill set. The Green Monster will make an already strong arm stronger. He had seven outfield assists in 2010, and that number could see a rise. He also made just two errors. Learning how the ball comes off the wall in Boston will be his greatest challenge in 2011, and once he does that, Crawford could be moving up this list as 2011 rolls around.
The Red Sox made more than one big splash in the off-season, also acquiring San Diego Padres' first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is known for his big power in a big ball park, but he is also known for his premium defense at first base. Though his range is somewhat limited, he is the most sure-handed first baseman in the league. If the ball is hit or thrown anywhere near him, he is going to catch it. He made eight errors in 2010, and a strong fielding percentage of .995.
Moving to the American League, Gonzalez will benefit from a very sure-handed infield, including Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro, and Kevin Youkillis. He won't have to take as much time to adjust as new teammate, Carl Crawford, but as with any new job, he'll have a transition period to adjust. I expect big things out of Adrian Gonzalez in 2011.
Since coming to America to play professional baseball, Ichiro Suzuki has been one of the greatest defensive outfielders in the game. Despite the fact that winning the Gold Glove Award didn't play a large role in determining placement, any man that wins ten straight Gold Gloves is no slouch in the outfield. Ichiro boasts one of the strongest arms in the game, to go along with great range and a natural ability to play the outfield. He is like a defensive machine, and runners will think twice before going to third or trying to score in Ichiro.
His outfield assists were down a bit in 2010, to seven, but he made just four errors and continued being the Ichiro that everyone has come to know and love. When an offensive player of his caliber is scarier on the defensive side of the ball, you know that you have a great outfielder on your hands.
The Texas Rangers must be kicking themselves. Would you believe that they once had the opportunity to acquire Robinson Cano in the deal that sent Alex Rodriguez to the Bronx? Instead, they chose to acquire a young shortstop name Joaquin Arias, who has since fallen out of favor with the Texas Rangers, was traded to the New York Mets, designated for assignment, and eventually, picked up by the Kansas City Royals. On the other hand, Robinson Cano has turned into an MVP-like player, finishing second to Josh Hamilton in 2010.
Cano has also developed into one of the game's top defensive players. Like Utley and Ellis before him, Cano has great range to both sides of his body, as well as over his head to make tough plays in the outfield. With Derek Jeter making up the other half of the double play combination, the Yankees will feature one of the league's top defensive talents for at least the next three years, and more likely, four.
Cano made just three errors in 2010, and boasted one of the league's top fielding percentages at .996. He gets more than a fair share of balls hit to him, and plays in a very tough division. With tons of talented lefties like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, and Travis Snider slugging balls his way, he should be very busy in 2011 as well.
Josh Hamilton won more the 2010 American League MVP Award with more than just his ridiculous offensive numbers. Over the years, his story has been told many times over, but he has finally blossomed into the complete player that MVP's are truly made of. Along with his well above average offense, Hamilton also boasts a strong arm -- nine outfield assists in 2010 -- and great range in the outfield. Though running into walls and things of the sort may have cost him a few games in 2010, he carried the Texas Rangers on his shoulders to the World Series.
He made just four errors in the outfield in 2010, and shows great range to both left field and right field, which is why the Rangers are so reluctant to move him out of center field to make room for one of their top prospects, Julio Borbon. Though he'll turn 30 in May, you can argue the fact that Hamilton is finally developing into the top player that the Rays, Reds, and Rangers all believed he would be, and many more fine defensive seasons are on the way.
Brandon Phillips has gained some negative attention over the past couple of seasons for being a bit of a loud moth, both on and off the field. Whether it was the now notorious fight with the St. Louis Cardinals and the verbal warfare that followed, or attributing Roy Halladay's post-season no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds to the home plate umpire, Phillips has done more talking than he should. However, he does back up those words, with both his offensive and defensive skill.
Phillips has become one of the top second baseman in the National League, winning two Gold Gloves in the past three seasons. He has good range and a strong, accurate arm, as well as the ability to go back over his head into the outfield and foul territory. One of the greatest assets to Phillips' defense is his vertical jump, as pictured. He committed just three errors in 2010, and boasted a fielding percentage of .996.
When the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Brad Lidge from the Houston Astros, they didn't send much back to Houston. The deal included journeyman reliever, Geoff Geary, a fringe third base prospect in Michael Costanzo, and a former top prospect in speedy outfielder, Michael Bourn. Since the day the deal was made, Bourn has developed into a fine outfielder, taking home his first Gold Glove in 2009, and retaining the award in 2010.
Though his offense is severely lacking, Bourn roams a tough outfield in Houston with ease, including that obscene hill in center field. He has great speed, and a natural instinct that allows him to roam the outfield freely. Suprisng for his size, Bourn also boasts a very strong arm. He had eight outfield assists in 2010, and made just three errors. He is one of two of the National League's best outfielders, and someone else winning the Gold Glove Award in 2011 would be quite the surprise.
Though he spent most of the 2010 season injured, Jimmy Rollins returned to form at the end of the season and proved that he was completely healthy. Since his MVP season in 2007, Rollins has been one of the league's best defensive shortstops, and defense has been the only part of his game that hasn't come up lame in recent years.
Rollins has one of the strongest arms from shortstop in baseball, and he prides himself on making an accurate throw to a less-than sure-handed first baseman in Ryan Howard. He has great range to all sides, including back over his head and up the third base line on fly balls. In limited playing time in 2010, he made six errors and posted a fielding percentage of .982, but with more chances over the course of a completely healthy season, his normal fielding percentage is past .995.
Joey Votto put together a great season in 2010. On his way to becoming the National League MVP, unseating the incumbent, Albert Pujols, Votto challenged for the offensive Triple Crown and rose towards the top of the National League's defensive talent pool. He has great range at first base, and great hands to boot, no pun intended.
With Adrian Gonzalez out of the National League, there is only one first baseman still there that has more talent than Votto, and he resides in the same division. Much like his counterpart in the American League, Josh Hamilton, Votto is still blooming as an elite player. He won his first MVP in 2010, and has the ability to challenge for many more. With experience, his defense may rise past the two remaining first baseman on this list. After all, he made just five errors in 2010, and boasted a fielding percentage of .996.
In my own, personal opinion, catcher is the most challenging position to master on the baseball diamond, and only two men have completely "mastered" it. A good defensive catcher must be able to call a game, throwout base runners, and block balls with ease, among many other things. One of those catchers is Joe Mauer.
Mauer was, by far, the American League's best defensive catcher. He made just three errors behind the plate in 2010, and only four balls made it to the back stop on his account. His caught stealing percentage was .264, and he made 34 assists as the Twins' catcher. He also boasts some of those fun "intangibles," like the ability to handle a pitching staff with no real star power outside of Francisco Liriano, and help them pitch to an above average level.
When the Philadelphia Phillies drafted Shane Victorino in the Rule 5 Draft, they had no idea that they were getting an All-Star caliber player. In fact, it was the second time that Victorino had been taken in the draft, and the Phillies even offered him back to the Los Angeles Dodgers. A few years later, the Phillies have one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, and the recipient of three straight Gold Glove awards in center field.
Victorino has great speed in center field, and great baseball instincts. He always gets good jump on the ball, and has a strong, accurate arm to keep base runners honest. He had 11 outfield assists in 2010, and made just two errors. Playing alongside of good defenders like Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth certainly helped, but Victorino has established his defensive dominance and stranglehold on one of the National League's Gold Gloves, and that should not change moving forward.
Until someone rises to the occasion and proves otherwise, Albert Pujols is the National League's best first baseman. He's the complete package, and I'm beginning to question whether or not he is human... Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Still, Pujols can do it all. He has great range at first base, and that extends well into foul territory, where he makes unbelievable catches, like those that include running along the tarp. He has glue-like hands, and balls rarely get by him.
Pujols made just four errors in 2010, and posted a fielding percentage of .998. In the final year of his contract, the argument can be made that we may see a whole new beast in 2011, as players tend to play beyond their norms in contract years. If that is the case, baseball's biggest purse may not even be big enough to land King Albert.
When the New York Yankees signed free agent first baseman, Mark Teixeira, after the 2008 season, they knew they were getting two things -- one of the best offensive first baseman in baseball, and one of the best defensive first baseman in baseball. Though his offense has been somewhat lacking, to his standards, his defense has not. Teixeira saves plenty of runs at first base, and makes the rest of the infield, which also features great defenders in Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter, even better.
He has phenomenal range to all sides of his body, and like the other great first basemen featured on this list, anything thrown at him is caught. He made just three errors in 2010, and boasted an incredible fielding percentage of .998. His post-season ended a bit early thanks to a hamstring injury, but he'll be ready for the start of the 2011 season, and ready to defend his Gold Glove Award for the third consecutive season.
Shin-Soo Choo has been in and out of the media this off-season, and he hasn't been mentioned much in regards to baseball. There was a lot of chatter about Choo having to return to his native South Korea for military service, but luckily for baseball fans everywhere, that matter has been resolved, and Choo will be a Cleveland Indian in 2011. He has great tools as an outfielder, including an incredibly strong arm from right field. He also displays great range, good speed, and great baseball instinct.
Choo was one of baseball's most impressive right fielders of 2010, compiling a total of 14 assists and making just four errors. With the worries of his military service beckoning behind him, we can look for an incredible, focused season out of Choo in 2011.
Brett Gardner impressed many people in 2010, myself included. He is much like Carl Crawford -- an outfielder playing left field with a center fielder's skill set. He has well above average speed and good baseball instinct. He goes back on balls well and covers the entirety of left field without a problem. Before his breakout season in 2010, he was widely coveted as a Yankees' prospect, and it is now apparent why.
Gardner has a very strong arm from left field, and throws out runners with ease. He had 12 outfield assists in 2010, and made just one error, becoming a defensive powerhouse for the Yankees, who have created an impressive outfield tandem between he and center fielder, Curtis Granderson. What is most interesting about Gardner is that he is just 27 years old, and can still mature into one of baseball's top talents.
This number one pick is sure to raise a few eyebrows, but that's the glory of baseball. If it's not controversial, it's not worth talking about. I mentioned a few slides ago that I thought that catcher was the most demanding position on the baseball diamond, and by many standards, it is. The catcher has to focus on many aspects of the game, including the current hitter, the on-deck hitter, base-runners, a pitching staff, situational pitching... the list goes on and on. The best defensive catcher in the game is, without argument, Yadier Molina.
Molina, who's brothers Bengie and Jose are also major league catchers, has the daunting task of handling a very talented St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff that features Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, who are both known for their wide array of pitches. Outside of that, runners do not attempt to steal against Molina unless they are sure they can make it, and more than often, they can't. Molina had an incredible 79 assists from behind the plate in 2010, and threw out .485 % of base-runners that tried running against him.
He made just five errors, and only seven balls passed by him. Though few runners get on base thanks to that pitching staff, Molina's best game comes out when runners are on. He is known for that snap throw to first base, or second base for that matter, which will catch any base runner off guard if they lose focus.
There are many great defenders on this list, but Yadier Molina is by far the best defensive player at his position, which just happens to be the most challenging in the game.