Every MLB Team's Top Defensive Prospect in the Minors

Zachary BallAnalyst IDecember 29, 2011

Every MLB Team's Top Defensive Prospect in the Minors

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    Defense wins championships...or so the saying goes.

    That motto isn't necessarily as true for baseball as it is for other sports, but stellar play on the defensive side of things certainly enhances a team's chance to make it to, and win the World Series. Just ask the 2002 Anaheim Angels or the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

    On an individual note, defensive wizards can change the course of a game, or even a season.

    As such, it's worth taking a couple of minutes to have a fine discussion on who the top minor league defenders are for each team.

    Some of the names, such as Bryce Harper and Wilin Rosario, should be familiar, while others will be introduced to you for the first time.

    Let's get to it.

Raul Navarro, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Chris Owings is no doubt the top shortstop prospect in the D-Backs system, but he can't hold a candle to Navarro's skill defensively.

    Navarro has arguably the strongest arm in the system and he showed it this past season, splitting time between rookie ball and Low-A. He made fewer errors in 36 more games, and posted a .956 fielding percentage at Low-A South Bend.

    As Navarro continues to grow into his body, he'll become an even better defender, although given his offensive liabilities (.201 average last year) it's likely Owings will lock down the long-term job.

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves

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    Simmons was tabbed by Baseball America as the top defensive player available in the 2010 draft, and the Braves, never a team to let quality shortstops go to waste, pounced on the Curacao native in the second-round.

    Simmons has amazing arm strength, and was clocked as high as 98 mph before the 2010 draft. He has excellent footwork and great hand-eye coordination. On the field he dazzled in his pro debut, making just nine errors in 62 games, but slipped a bit in 2011, making 28 and witnessing a nearly 20 point drop in his fielding percentage.

    As he gains more experience, however, he should emerge as one of the top young shortstop prospects in baseball.

Matt Angle, OF, Baltimore Orioles

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    In five minor league seasons, Angle has committed only nine errors and racked up 43 assists.

    In addition to having sensational speed, which aids him not only on the basepaths, but also in the field, Angle has an incredibly strong arm, one of the best of any outfielder in Baltimore's system. It was on full-display in 2011, as Angle racked up ten assists in 98 games in centerfield at Triple-A Norfolk.

    His sterling defensive play was more than enough reason for the O's to bring him up for a 31-game cameo, but his .177 average was not enough to guarantee him a spot on the roster for 2012.

Jose Iglesias, SS, Boston Red Sox

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    Iglesias is another defensive wizard whose wizardry doesn't extend to the offensive side of things.

    Despite his .333 average during his ten-game stint with the Red Sox, Iglesias managed a meager .261 average during his two seasons, including a .235 mark in 101 games at Triple-A Pawtucket. Luckily he held down a .973 fielding percentage and played a part in 68 double plays in 97 games.

    Assuming he can't get the hang of things at the plate, Iglesias' defensive talent won't mean a thing, but it's certainly going to help his cause as a long-term member of the organization.

Junior Lake, SS/3B, Chicago Cubs

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    Lake has arguably the strongest infield arm in all of the minor leagues.

    Unfortunately, he's currently playing the same position as Cubs superstar Starlin Castro. A move to third base is likely in his future, but 33 career home runs in 476 games isn't exactly the kind of production big-league managers are looking for from their player manning the hot corner. Neither are his abysmal walk-to-strikeout ratios.

    Assuming Lake can handle the transition to third base, offensively speaking, he could be a perennial Gold Glover.

Tyler Saladino, SS, Chicago White Sox

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    Saladino made 23 errors in 2011, but showed enough defensive prowess that most think he'll be an above-average defender with more experience.

    Luckily, his bat is plenty good too, (.270, 16 HR) and he has slightly above-average speed (nine triples) which should buy him some time to iron out his footwork.

Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds

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    Cozart isn't the flashiest defensive player, that honor goes to DiDi Gregorius, but he's by far the most solid, well-rounded defender in Cincinnati's system.

    Point in case, Cozart posted the highest fielding percentage among shortstops in the International League in 2010. He made just 11 errors in 75 games at Triple-A this past season and was perfect handling all of his chances during an 11-game trial in the big-leagues.

    Now, if he could just stay off the DL, he might have a chance at becoming one of the top young shortstops in the National League.

Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    From one of the least flashy (yet still productive) shortstops in the minors to arguably the most flashy, Cleveland's Francisco Lindor.

    Lindor was the top shortstop chosen in the 2011 draft, and was the second high-school position player taken overall, thanks in part to his outstanding defensive abilities. He's the kind of player that can make all the throws, making even the incredibly difficult plays look easy.

    He has a cannon for an arm, and the swagger that closely resembles that of his counterpart at the big-league level, Asdrubal Cabrera.

Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado Rockies

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    Rosario has long been one of the top catcher prospects in the game, although he doesn't receive nearly as much attention as some of the other big names, such as Devin Mesoraco, Travis d'Arnaud and Jesus Montero.

    Luckily, that name recognition hasn't stopped Rosario from being the first among the group to taste the big-leagues. He's also easily the top defender among the four. He threw out five of the eight runners who attempted to steal on him in the big-leagues this past season and has a career 41% caught stealing rate in the minor leagues.

Bryan Holaday, C, Detroit Tigers

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    The Tigers drafted the former TCU star for his defensive abilities, despite the fact that during his final season in college he hit ten homers and drove in 48 runs.

    In his pro debut, Holaday showed little potential at the plate (.220) or behind it (21% caught stealing rate), but he reversed that trend in 2011, upping his average to .242 and slugging seven homers, while improving his CS rate dramatically (34%).

    Holaday has all the makings of a big-league backstop defensively. His arm is strong, his pop-times are quick and he's a natural born leader who handles a staff as good as anyone.

Jonathan Villar, SS, Houston Astros

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    Villar is without a doubt one of the top defensive shortstop prospects in the game, and if his bat could catch up he would be considered one of the top all-around shortstops in the minors.

    Despite making 56 errors in 2010 and another 36 last year, scouts project Villar as an above-average defender at the big-league level. If that many errors scare you away, don't forget that Derek Jeter committed 56 errors in his second season in the minors.

Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals

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    One of the newest members of the Royals organization, and the team's first-round pick from this past June, Bubba Starling is such an incredible athlete that he had scholarship offers in three sports.

    In baseball, however, his future was the brightest, and that's where he ended up. At the plate he figures to be a solid blend of speed and power, a la Hunter Pence, with 30 homer potential and at least 25 steals annually. In the field, he's also special. With an arm that has garnered Bryce Harper comparisons, he should be an assist machine, capable of offering Gold Glove caliber defense, even if he is forced to move from centerfield as he gains experience and bulk.

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

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    In addition to being one of the top prospects in baseball, Trout is also one of the better defensive outfielders.

    He possesses a rocket arm, blinding speed that should allow him to get to any ball, and fantastic natural instincts. The combination of the three should make him a perennial favorite for a Gold Glove.

    Interestingly enough, however, he figures to make the move to a corner spot due to the fact that current big-league centerfielder Peter Bourjos is an even better defensive outfielder.

James Baldwin III, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Baldwin comes from great genes. His father, James, played 11 seasons in the big-leagues finishing second in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting and earning one All-Star nod.

    His son, however, is the one with the greater potential, and far superior defensive ability. In 92 pro games, he's racked up eight outfield assists, and has shown great speed and amazing athleticism.

    Like a few other players on this list, Baldwin's bat may hold him back, although he did slug ten home runs this past season in just 50 games.

Matt Dominguez, 3B, Miami Marlins

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    Dominguez doesn't have the same shine that he did back in 2009, or even 2010, when he ranked as the team's top prospect, but he's still one of the top defensive third baseman in the minor leagues.

    The failure of Dominguez's bat to catch up with his defensive wizardry has caused him to suffer from a bit of prospect fatigue, and 2011 was one of his worst performances yet. He struggled to hit big-league pitching, both in spring training and in a late-season call-up.

    On defense, however, the former first-round pick, was as good as ever. He committed just 13 errors all season, the lowest single-season total he posted since 2008.

Yadiel Rivera, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Rivera doesn't have the bat to ever play in the Majors, and he likely won't even be able to hack it in the upper levels of the minors, but that doesn't change the fact that he's the team's top infield defender.

    Rivera's actions and footwork at shortstop are above-average and the only tool that doesn't stand out for him defensively is his arm, which is currently not too strong, but has the potential to gain some strength as he fills out (he's still just 175 pounds).

    Rivera should spend the entire season at Low-A Wisconsin, although if he doesn't show any progress, it's hard to imagine him making much more of an impression in the Brewers system.

Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins

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    Hicks may have failed to develop as the offensive double-threat that the Twins hoped for when they made him their first-round pick back in 2008. He hasn't turned out to be Jason Heyward, but he's still the Twins top defensive outfielder.

    Thanks to a strong arm, that was clocked at 97 mph prior to the 2008 draft, Hicks has been an assists machine as he's gingerly climbed up the ladder in the minors. He compiled only 11 from 2009 to 2010, but exploded for 18 this past season. He also doubled up ten runners. tops of any outfielder in the Twins system.

Brandon Nimmo, Of, New York Mets

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    Nimmo is the newest addition to the Mets' system, the team's first-round selection this past June.

    In addition to his awesome offensive potential, Nimmo also has the potential to be an above-average defender in time. He has an athletic, wiry build that allows him to cover huge chunks of ground in the outfield. His arm is also amazingly strong, making him a double-threat on defense.

Mason Williams, OF, New York Yankees

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    Williams was the breakout star of the Yankees system in 2011, and part of that had to do with the improvements he made on defense.

    He racked up eight assists, which is a solid amount, especially in the mere 63 games he took part in. A greater challenge will be posed to him as he moves to full-season ball next year.

Max Stassi, C, Oakland Athletics

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    Despite being one of the youngest players in the A's system, Stassi is one of it's top defenders and without a doubt the top defensive catcher.

    A lingering shoulder injury limited Stassi to just 31 games last season, none of which he spent behind the plate. When he has been healthy, however, he's been deadly to opposing runners. He cut down 34% of basestealers in 2010, despite dealing with the same shoulder ailment for the latter part of the season.

    Stassi should return to catching duties full-time in 2012, and if what has been publicized about his mature handling of pitching staffs is true, the A's have their catcher of the future in him.

Freddie Galvis, SS, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Galvis has been the top defensive infielder in Philadelphia's system for quite some time now, and it's going to take quite a player to knock him off of his perch.

    One could make the case, however, that 2011 was Galvis' worst defensive season since 2008. He committed 19 errors, 16 of which came at Double-A Reading, where he made just 11 the year before.

    His career fielding percentage of .971 is one of the top numbers among active shortstops, and there's no doubt Galvis has what it takes to man the position in the big-leagues.

Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Marte had a breakout season in 2011, setting career-highs in numerous offensive categories, including runs (91), RBI (50), home runs (12) and batting average (.332).

    His most impressive statistic, however, was the 18 outfield assists he racked up in just 129 games, double the number that he had in 2010. He also doubled off four runners, another career-high.

    Marte's blinding speed is his greatest tool, and nowhere more than in the field, where he could one day force Andrew McCutchen out of centerfield and into a corner spot.

Charlie Tilson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Tilson is the most impressive all-around high-school player drafted by the Cardinals since they tabbed recently departed Colby Rasmus as their first-round pick back in 2005.

    Tilson might turn out to be a very talented hitter, but his calling card for the time being is likely his defense. He has excellent speed, which aids him on the basepaths and in the field and his arm is incredibly strong.

    He might have to move away from centerfield, but that shouldn't keep him from being an assist machine.

Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres

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    Hedges was consistently rated as the top defensive catcher available in the 2011 draft class, high-school or college. His defense was so good in fact that it was considered light-years ahead of his offensive potential. He earned a scholarship offer to UCLA and was headed there before the Padres changed his mind with $3 million.

    Now he's one of the top defensive catchers in the minor leagues.

Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants

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    Brown is not only the top prospect in the Giants system, but he's also the top defender.

    He has the speed to cover massive amounts of ground and the footwork and hand-eye coordination to stick in centerfield for the next five-to-ten years in San Francisco. Power isn't also a big part of his game, so the organization won't have to worry about him adding some bulk.

    Brown racked up an astonishing 16 assists from centerfield in 2011.

Marcus Littlewood, SS, Seattle Mariners

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    Littlewood gets conflicting reports on his defense. Some scouts see him as a future second baseman, while others feel that he could eventually improve his game allowing him to remain at shortstop long-term.

    Either way, Littlewood is going to be an above-average defender at second base or an average defender at shortstop. Both ways work out for Seattle.

Mikie Mahtook, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Mahtook was one of the top defensive outfielders available in the 2011 college crop, and was a steal for the Rays to get with their second first-round pick, the 31st pick overall.

    A five-tool athlete who played multiple sports in high-school and who could have played football at the college level, Mahtook could play either center of right-field at the pro level, but has the arm strength to fit best in the corner spot.

    Mahtook signed too late to make his pro debut but should rack up the assists in 2012.

Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers

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    Profar had a breakout season in 2011 and was a legitimate candidate for Minor League Player of the Year honors, not only for his play at the plate, but also for his stellar defensive showing at shortstop.

    Just 18-years old and scrawny at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, Profar shows smooth, fluid motions in the field. His footwork is light-years ahead of other shortstops his age and his arm is more than capable of making all the throws.

    He's posted fielding percentages over .950 in each of the past two seasons and committed just 22 errors at short in 114 games in 2011.

Anthony Gose, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Gose's defensive skills were one of the primary reasons the Blue Jays were so keen on acquiring him from Houston, who acquired the speedy outfielder from Philadelphia.

    Of course, the fact that he stole a combined 115 bases in 245 games didn't hurt, but Gose's blinding speed plays incredibly well in the outfield as well, where he has racked up 13 or more assists in three consecutive seasons.

    There is no player currently in Toronto's system that can prevent Gose from locking down the long-term job in centerfield.

Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

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    Harper takes home every other honor and award for the Washington system, so why would it be any other player who garners top defensive player honors?

    Harper has the tools to back up the nomination, though, as anybody who watched his cannon throw from the warning track to home plate, needing just one bounce, can testify. His arm is solid gold, and his athleticism is off the charts, helping him justify his above-average defender status.