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March 13, 2013

Top Tools

Glove

by BP Prospect Staff

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Infield

Top Infield Defender in the Minor Leagues: Jose Iglesias (Boston Red Sox)

At times it can be difficult to succinctly describe something as impressive as Iglesias’ defense. BP’s Chris Mellen noted that he thought Iglesias’ defense “has actually gotten better than when he first came over from Cuba,” which seems impossible given the quality of his leather upon arrival. Iglesias does it all in the field; he has uncanny instincts for the position, excellent first-step quickness, and the foot speed to parlay that into plus-plus range. His hands are truly exceptional and his footwork is near flawless, allowing him to remain in balance and make accurate throws. He has the ability to make the routine plays look mundane but can then leave you in awe as he makes the spectacular plays seem far too simple. Iglesias is an elite defender and there really isn’t anyone close to him in the minor leagues.

Other Players Considered: Adeiny Hechavarria (Miami Marlins)

In a non-Jose Iglesias world of infield defense, Hechavarria would likely run away with the title of "Best Defender." Unfortunately, he lives in a world not only populated by but dominated by Jose Iglesias. Hechavarria has excellent defensive attributes and could win Gold Gloves at the big-league level; he’s just not Jose Iglesias and that leaves him on the outside looking in.

Top Major League Infield Defender: Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers)

All-Time Tool: Ozzie Smith

How to Identify It:  The flashy plays deep in the hole, behind the bag or charging toward home plate are easy to spot when you are looking at defenders. They stand out like a sore thumb and force you to acknowledge them for what they are, tremendous plays. But behind that flashy play there is much more to scouting infield defense. How a fielder reacts to the ball at the instant of contact can speak volumes about whether he will be able to make the play. Even the slightest hesitation or being just a degree or two off in the original angle of attack can lead to a missed opportunity. When the defender gets to the ball, you want to see him under control, balanced, and showing well-orchestrated footwork to prepare for the impending throw. Exhibiting range on ground balls isn’t the only thing you must pay attention to, as there can be a difference between that range and the range a player shows on a ball hit in the air. Noting this difference is important. How the hands work when fielding the ball is another critical element to identifying the quality defender. A good defender will cradle the ball into the glove, showing a softness that is reserved for the handling of newborn children, fielding it cleanly in the pocket without any apparent bobble. The transfer to the throwing hand should be just as clean. For good infield defenders, everything from the first step to the fielding of the ball, and on through the release of the throw, should appear smooth and fluid.

Outfield

Top Outfield Defender in the Minor Leagues: Jackie Bradley (Boston Red Sox)

Watching Jackie Bradley patrol center field is a breath-taking experience. Like Iglesias on the infield, Bradley employs exceptional instincts for the position. He consistently shades hitters the right way and his initial jump at the crack of the bat is almost always correct. He reads the ball so well that while many players would still be making their first split-second decision he is already off chasing down the ball. While Bradley isn’t a burner in center field, his instincts and first step give him above average range; he can go get it from gap to gap, has little trouble on balls hit over his head, and even excels charging in on balls. Bradley isn’t quite elite in the outfield but his plus-plus glove plays up a grade because of the instincts he shows on a daily basis.

Other Players Considered: Albert Almora (Chicago Cubs), Avisail Garcia (Detroit Tigers), Aaron Hicks (Minnesota Twins)

Both internal to the BP Prospect Staff and in external conversations with scouts, Almora was right there with Bradley as the top glove in the minor leagues today. Almora’s instincts rate as well as Bradley’s and there was a growing sentiment that in the end Almora could be the better defender in center field. Avisail Garcia is a gifted defender and earned mention from several folks, but he lacks the premium up-the-middle defense of the others considered for this list. Among corner outfielders, however, I challenge you to find a better defender in the minor leagues. Hicks and his Twins teammate Byron Buxton both factored into the discussion as well. Buxton isn’t quite there, but has the raw tools to project to an impact defender at maturity; Hicks can go get it in center field and could be a Gold Glove-caliber defender once he settles into the big leagues.

Top Major League Outfield Defender: Peter Bourjos (Los Angeles Angels)

All-Time Tool: Ken Griffey, Jr.

How to Identify It: Outfield defense can be one of the most misleading skills on the baseball field; largely because the glossy veneer of a diving catch can be difficult to see beyond. A late jump or poor route to the ball can force a defender to dive when a better player may have gracefully trotted under the ball for an easy out. Without focusing on the player in person, it can be difficult to discern such nuances. The best outfield defenders have a seemingly instantaneous, and consistently correct, reaction to the batted ball. At the moment of contact, the defender breaks, and that initial decision on which way to break can make the difference between catching the ball and coming up a fraction short. The best defenders don’t take a step back before charging hard on a blooper over second. Similarly, the initial angle of pursuit can make a huge difference. You want to see the outfielder take a direct path to his intersection with the ball, not a “banana” route that suggests the player misread the ball off the bat and is now trying to adjust on the fly. You know the good defenders when you see them because everything looks easy in the outfield. They seem to glide to the ball without a ton of effort. They’re just always there, no matter how far into the gap or how far over their head the ball is hit.

Catcher

Top Catching Defender in the Minor Leagues: Austin Hedges (San Diego Padres)

Heading into the 2011 draft, amateur scouts raved about Hedges' defensive abilities. His catch-and-throw skills are superb, including tremendous footwork, a quick transfer from the glove to his throwing hand, a lightning-quick release and an arm that rated as one of the best in the minor leagues. On top of all that, he shows an excellent ability to block both fastballs and breaking balls, keeping nearly everything in front of him. He is lauded for his ability to work with his pitching staffs and shows a feel for calling a good game. His pitch framing, while already good entering pro ball, has improved dramatically since signing. Hedges does it all behind the plate and he could be waiting in the wings to take the crown of best defensive catcher in baseball once Yadier Molina is ready to relinquish the title.

Other Players Considered: Christian Bethancourt (Atlanta Braves), Carlos Paulino (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Bethancourt has the raw tools to equal or better Hedges as a defender, but he lacks the consistency and can rely too heavily on his 80-grade arm at the expense of footwork. Paulino also received considerable praise as one of the best defenders around. He lacks the loud defensive tools of Hedges or Bethancourt, but he is very consistent in the application of his defensive abilities.

Top Major League Catching Defender: Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)

All-Time Tool: Johnny Bench

How to Identify It: The nuances of defense behind the plate are not apparent in one sitting or even over the course of a series; rather, they come out over time and careful observance. It’s not all about gunning down hopeful basestealers or back-picking a guy at first base. That’s the sexy part of what catchers do, but it’s not everything. You need to see how they block the ball in the dirt, including how they handle both fastballs and breaking balls, and how well they control the ball as it ricochets off their body. But it’s not just the ball in the dirt; you also have to see how they handle pitches that are right on the cusp of being in the dirt but can still be caught. How a catcher receives the ball is another critical element worth watching. You want to see a catcher receive the ball softly with the glove turned the proper way, avoiding being handcuffed and not boxing the ball. In addition to all that, how are they at calling the game? Are they able to pick up trends with hitters or even their own pitchers and make in-game adjustments? Scouting the defense of a catcher is an extremely complex task that takes focus, patience and above all, time to let the skills show during games.

Previous Top Tools
Arm Strength

Article discussed and debated by the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team. Constructed and delivered by Mark Anderson.

52 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Andy Cochrane

Really interesting articles in this series. Helps to pinpoint exactly what is considered good and great. Thanks.

Mar 13, 2013 04:06 AM
rating: 2
 
davekirsch

Ken Griffey, Jr in the outfield? Really? I believe it was emeritus Gary Huckabay who first stated Griffey "breaks like a glacier". He'd consistently be diving for balls that were simple outs for other OF.
Gimme Devon White (or maybe an early Andruw Jones) anyday. I'll never forget White's catch off David Justice's laser beam in the '92 World Series. He made it look easy. So many times, White would be camped under a ball for which another player would be diving. He had his shortcomings as an offensive player, but he was amazingly fluid & full of grace.
We can probably add Dwayne Murphy and a bunch of others to the discussion. As great as Griffey was, I don't see how he makes the top 20 on the defensive side of the ball.

Mar 13, 2013 05:56 AM
rating: 8
 
ttt

100% agree about Andruw Jones. He should present for Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz.

Mar 13, 2013 08:08 AM
rating: 1
 
formersd

My vote would go to Devon White as well. He was amazing and seems to be largely forgetton.

Mar 13, 2013 08:25 AM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Very good choice. I loved watching him play. Beast.

Mar 13, 2013 08:36 AM
 
BP staff member Chris Mellen
BP staff

I was a very big fan of Devon White's defensive game. He glided with extreme grace after flies, always seeming to take the perfect route and move before the crack of the bat. That speaks to the instincts. If White left his feet to make a play, you knew there was a high amount of difficulty.

Jackie Bradley is similar to that out in center. He doesn't have White's wheels, but those instincts and precision are there. Often, as formersd mentioned, those types due tend to get lost a bit when looking back because they were always there in the right spot or making things look easy that the difficulty/execution gets taken for the norm rather than something special.

Mar 13, 2013 09:24 AM
 
marctacoma

As a long-time M's fan/Griffey fan who came of age during The Kid's ascent, I must reluctantly agree with Dave. Griffey is maybe the 3rd best defensive CF the M's have had. Mike Cameron's probably the best, and was up there with peak Andruw Jones.

Mar 13, 2013 10:18 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

I agree with the idea that Griffey shouldn't have the all-time tool award. Devon White or early Andruw Jones (or even an Ichiro) would draw my vote. White and Ichiro were great fielders for much longer than Griffey was.

Mar 13, 2013 10:55 AM
rating: 1
 
lopkhan00

As we are on post 44, I think it's time to mention another brilliant OF defender: Eric Davis in the mid to late 80s. He had the speed and instincts and could get up, over the wall to rob potential homers like no one else at the time. He also would lay out to make every play. Of course, that was his downfall as he was always injured.

Mar 14, 2013 08:59 AM
rating: 1
 
Drungo

Yes, it seems odd that Griffey would be cited for all time excellence in the outfield when BP's own metrics have him 70 runs below average. Jones, White, and Gary Pettis are all 15-20 or more WINS ahead of Griffey with the glove.

Mar 13, 2013 06:43 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I'm not a fan of defensive metrics, regardless if they wear the BP brand. When debating these tools, I highly doubt any of the BP prospect team looked at metrics to determine value. It's a scouting series. We all see the game with different eyes, and that should encourage a healthy debate on the subject. It's a subjective exercise, not a definitive list of players based on one specific stat. What fun would that be? The goal is for people to make their own case for players in the comments.

Mar 13, 2013 08:33 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I remember the recalculation of FRAA really affecting Ozzie Smith's JAWS score in one of Jay Jaffe's articles.

Mar 13, 2013 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
yadenr

OOOH! Scouts versus Stats...fight, fight, fight!

Mar 13, 2013 11:32 AM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Given the fact that this was an article debated, discussed and constructed by members of the BP prospect team, not to mention that its a scouting series based on individual tool evaluations, I'm not sure its the best platform for a scouting/stats debate. This is just straight up raw scouting.

Mar 13, 2013 12:49 PM
 
tannerg

Griffey? Isn't this column about two and a half weeks early?

Mar 13, 2013 07:17 AM
rating: 0
 
Wrigleyviller
(883)

Love this column. I've been reading articles on sabermetrics for about half my life now and it's really great to get a more in-depth understanding of the scouting side of things. Keep up the good work!

Mar 13, 2013 07:48 AM
rating: 0
 
Klochner

Who else figured into the infield discussion of Top Major League Tool?

Mar 13, 2013 08:16 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Simmons and Ryan got lots of love.

Mar 13, 2013 08:54 AM
 
Gobroks

For the top ML tool what role did position play? (IE did the people arguing for Ryan/Simmons make the case that since they play up the middle rather than a corner spot they deserve the top honour?)

Mar 13, 2013 22:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Chomsky
(103)

No Willie Mays?!

Mar 13, 2013 08:19 AM
rating: 2
 
BarryR

These kids today, am I right, Chomsky?

In a world in which CF was covered by the great Curt Flood, the graceful Andruw Jones, the dynamic Devon White,the superb Amos Otis and Paul Blair, and where 2/3 of the Earth is covered by water and the rest by Gary Maddox, the correct answer to this question is still Willie Mays. But these guys never saw him, so how can they know?

Mar 13, 2013 16:30 PM
rating: 0
 
jdmurphy

Regarding outfielders' first read, and getting a break on the ball: How does a scout figure this out, practically speaking? Presumably the observer is watching the pitcher/hitter to begin with. Once a ball is hit, it takes a split second to recognize what field it's hit to and another split second to locate the fielder. In that time, the fielder has already made his break, presumably. The same question, maybe to a lesser extent, with shading for different hitters. How to keep track of the player's innumerable shifts in position?

I fully expect the answer is, 'Scouts are good.' But I still have a hard time with it.

Mar 13, 2013 08:55 AM
rating: 3
 
joshtatum92

Also interested in this. Would love a legitimate answer. haha.

Mar 13, 2013 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Chris Mellen
BP staff

On my end, when observing and scouting, I like to break things into the game within the game after a baseline has been established and the tools have been gauged. At least for me, I can't cover every single thing that is happening in the game or every single player. That's why its about getting many, many looks, sitting on a set of games, consistent coverage, and having an objective.

Once the tools have been identified, it becomes a deep dive on how those tools are progressing and watching for the developmental clues. Building the story and picture over multiple looks and snapshots.

Maybe, its a couple of innings of putting the isolated camera on how a particular player gets set in the field and reacts to the crack of the bat. Or, watching how another player takes their lead at first base after reaching, reads the delivery, takes their first step, etc. Zoning in on a hitter's body language and reaction to the pitches being thrown to them. Narrowing down the focus after some of the broad points like how fast they run, how hard they throw, or how quickly they swing the bat.

Mar 13, 2013 09:45 AM
 
jfranco77

Remember, a lot of the guys on the field are NPs. So you can watch one guy (the legit guy you're there to see) the whole time, before the pitch is even thrown.

Watch how he sets up, if he moves when he sees the sign from the catcher, etc. Watch where he goes when the ball is hit.

Do that long enough and you'll see some balls hit to him. If he breaks one way and then another, you know he probably broke wrong, even if you weren't watching the ball.

Mar 13, 2013 09:49 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

It's a good question. First of all, its very hard to scout position players while also scouting the entire game. I find it very useful (when applicable) to sit on one player throughout the course of a game or series. It's narrow, but that's how you can make detailed observations on the player. If you focus on a player long enough, you start to see how he moves, when he moves, why he moves, and the results of those moves. I find it very difficult to make such defensive observations when I'm also watching the pitcher and hitter do their thing.

Along the lines of the "Scouts are good" thought, ability and experience do play a role in the scouting process. I've been around some scouting veterans that seem more engaged in bleacher chatter and gossip than the play on the field, yet when pressed, they saw details of the game that I wouldn't be able to pick up on multiple viewings. It's almost creepy and Jedi-like how a properly trained eye can observe multiple things taking place on the field while also telling war stories to other scouts participating in the same process. Experience and knowing what to look for are major components.

Obviously, not everybody has such scouting gifts and/or experience, so I find it best to really sit on a player for a long period of time to gather such particulars of the skill-set. If you watch long enough, the actions start to become representational. I spend half my life at fields watching games and I can't take photographs of all the actions all of the time.

The basic point is that if you really want to see how a fielder breaks to a ball or reads the ball off the bat and you aren't a Jedi, focus on the player throughout a game. You can hear the ball off the bat and follow the trajectory while watching the initial movements of the fielder in question.

Mar 13, 2013 09:57 AM
 
BayCityM

Thanks, Jason I love the insight.

Mar 13, 2013 10:16 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Just sent out a quick industry poll on Griffey, and every source put an 8 on the glove, which was the only tool being debated in this article. I didn't ask about the grade on his range or his arm, just the raw glove score they would assign. Every scouting source called it elite, or suggested it held that distinction at some point during his career.

Best ever? Now that is the real debate, as that is very subjective and I might favor a different player every day of the week. In a pool of 80-grade tools, its very difficult to identify the one that stands above the rest. I remember throwing out names like Cameron and Hunter, two gloves that burned a hole in my memory when I first started focusing on the particulars of tool identification. I know that I can make a case for both, just as many can make a very good case for Griffey.

Mar 13, 2013 12:58 PM
 
adrock

Interesting follow-up.

Did you happen to ask the scouts about White's defence? Would it also have been an 80, or more likely a 70 or 75?

Was Anthony Gose under consideration for best OF defense in the minors? I don't have a great sense about his instincts, but the speed and the arm give him a great base, and his UZR in centre last year was spectacular in a very small sample.

Mar 13, 2013 13:54 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Good case for White being a legit 8 as well.

Gose wasn't prospect eligible this year, so he wasn't in contention on the MiLB side.

Mar 13, 2013 13:57 PM
 
smitty

Garry Maddox had the reputation of being the best CFer around. How does he measure up?

Mar 13, 2013 14:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

So a 8 glove has nothing to do with range or arm? That's funny, because most of the description on the "How to identify it" for outfielders had to do with range, reaction, break, "glide", etc.

Well gosh, if it's just the glove, that should be easy enough... just look at who has the highest fielding percentage (removing throwing errors and assists)... if you want a rough calc though and leave the throwing errors and assists in, Griffey's fielding percentage of .985 was only .002 better than other centerfielders of that time period.. which is "better" but not "All-Time Best"

And hey, if we are just looking at glove, don't we need to reevaluate the other positions? Find someone with fewer passed balls per game than Johnny Bench? Maybe Casey Kotchman instead of Ozzie Smith for being able to catch such a high percentage of balls without making an error?

Eh.. I'm sorry, I think the criteria of this evaluation changed partway through since I thought "glove" included "range".

Mar 13, 2013 16:22 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Well gosh, you seem unable to grasp the concept of this particular exercise.

Mar 13, 2013 16:41 PM
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

Richard, an 8 glove includes range. It's not just errors. It's the OVERALL defense. Arm is separate, yes. But when you evaluate defense scouts look at range in evaluating the "glove," or defense, first and foremost. What Jason is saying is that his question wasn't broken down into multiple segments with the scouts.

If you like, I'll send you my scout school materials to help explain the process. If you want to take such a critical stance like this, you might want to understand how the evaluation occurs first.

Mar 13, 2013 17:09 PM
 
Brian Cartwright

My first read was similar to Richard's, that "glove" didn't consider range or arm, but re-reading, I see Jason's comment was that he asked for an overall rating, without it being broken down into the components of range and arm

Mar 13, 2013 17:49 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Prior to this discussion, I thought "glove" included arm and range and I thought it was on a 20-80 scale.

My interpretation of Jason's comment was that he was polling glove, i.e. ability to catch the ball, as a distinctly separate tool from arm or range. He used a term called "raw glove score" which seemed to have a different definition than "glove". It also used a "8" grade instead of a "20-80". So, yes, I thought that "raw glove" meant "basic ability to catch the ball" along the idea of "that guy has great range but stone hands" or "he doesn't get to much but he catches what he gets to".

I can admit that I most likely read it incorrectly but thanks Brian for at least seeing part of the reason why I was confused.

Mar 14, 2013 10:30 AM
rating: 1
 
joshtatum92

I, personally, would love your scout school materials.

joshtatum92@yahoo.com

Mar 15, 2013 07:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

You're usually better at commenting than this. Did Jason beat you at FIFA or something?

Mar 14, 2013 04:41 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

Better at commenting? That's interesting. I thought that was the perfect comment because it was the absolute truth. I'm just telling people how it is. If you're going to critique us, that's fine. We can be wrong. I understand that. But it doesn't mean people are above being corrected when they're wrong. This should be a dialogue to better understand the game. It shouldn't be a bitching session. That's beneath us all.

Mar 14, 2013 08:12 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think Behemoth was referring to my comment and saying I'm usually "better than this".

Mar 14, 2013 10:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Apologies. It appears I need to be better at commenting too. I was trying to talk to Richard.

Mar 14, 2013 14:31 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

Sorry guys...The comments are a little hard to decipher when they're tiered. And I now see what you mean Richard...the comment could have be read the wrong way. I just want everyone to understand people have different viewpoints and that no one way in this case is the right way. As always, thank you for participating in the discussion.

Mar 14, 2013 15:18 PM
 
buddaley

I don't have any idea who was the best ever, but because I want him to be remembered, I will add Paul Blair to the list of candidates in CF.

Mar 13, 2013 16:20 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Wow, good call. Definitely not a player I thought about, but one that deserves some recognition. Excellent.

Mar 13, 2013 16:43 PM
 
Saxtrax
(444)

"You want to see the outfielder take a direct path to his intersection with the ball, not a “banana” route that suggests the player misread the ball off the bat and is now trying to adjust on the fly."

When I attended a Cubs fantasy camp a couple years ago, I was told that taking the "direct path" wasn't always the correct play. Sometimes, the "banana route" that you describe was the preferred route if that put the outfielder in a better position to fire the ball straight back to the infield after the catch. During outfield drills, we were instructed to try and end up facing the infield after we made the play so that our throws would be more direct.

Mar 13, 2013 16:56 PM
rating: 0
 
sgrcuts

I LOVE this series.

Mar 13, 2013 17:03 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Many thanks! Mark Anderson deserves a healthy serving of the praise for this series. He has helped orchestrate the debates and turn those notes into a coherent product. It was a cool idea brought to our attention by our fearless EiC Ben, and the entire BP prospect team has participated in the debates. Fun experience.

Mar 13, 2013 17:12 PM
 
Brian Cartwright

No consideration for Starling Marte? Very good to excellent in both range and arm.

Mar 13, 2013 17:50 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

167 AB in 2012; not prospect eligible; not in elite class at highest level. Very good defender, but without the prospect eligibility, hard to get into major league mix.

Mar 13, 2013 18:45 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Considering that most mention was made about up-the-middle players (Beltre notwithstanding), who rated best among corner men? I am particularly interested in 1B. Great series.

Mar 14, 2013 06:33 AM
rating: 1
 
Matt

I'm also curious about this, as it seems the 1B defensive responsibilities are a bit different than the other positions.

Mar 14, 2013 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
redclay4

Jim Landis played center field for the White Sox from the late 1950's through mid 1960's. He was pretty much washed up by the age of 30. He was a phenomenal fielder in his 20's, however. I think FRAA will bear that out.

Mar 18, 2013 21:10 PM
rating: 0
 
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