When watching the minors in person, occasionally a position player really pops out at you in a way you don’t quite expect. These are often enough the guys you end up writing a glowing report about after confirming your initial impressions. They aren’t always the top prospects on the team, just guys that make a strong positive initial impression. Last year, guys that stood out for me like this included Andrew Benintendi and Tyler Wade. The first guy that fit the bill for me this year is Daniel Brito, a 2014 six-figure July 2 prospect in the Phillies system. He’s an A-ball second baseman. I usually don’t like A-ball second basemen.
I try to live by the following mantra when talking about live looks: you have to write what you see. So let’s talk about some things I saw. The ball jumps off Brito’s bat. He’s got a real projectable body, and a sweet lefty swing with strong bat speed that, put together, might generate significant power in the not-too-distant future. His approach is unusually advanced given he’s an international prospect that just turned 19 a few months ago. He’s not a true burner down the lines but he shows off athleticism on the basepaths. He’s perfectly fine at second base, with more than enough to remain at the position all the way up and the potential to try other spots like center as well. It’s an interesting package, one that has a lot of upside if that power comes into play, but still projects as a quality MLB player even as-is.
Second base is a strange position developmentally. With some limited exceptions (contrarians love to bring up Jose Altuve), most good modern major-league second basemen came from somewhere else. They’re shortstop prospects who fell a grade of arm or glove short, or third base or outfield prospects that their team tried to stretch. Nearly everyone you’d think of as a prototypical second baseman started somewhere else. Dustin Pedroia, the most second baseman to ever second base, was primarily a shortstop as late as Triple-A and even got in a half-dozen major-league games there. At the A-ball level, you rarely see impact, projectable talent at second, and whenever someone interesting shows up, the question “why is this guy playing second” usually leads to an answer that makes the prospect much less interesting.
Daniel Brito isn’t a “second base prospect” in the sense of a small guy with no projection, or a tool-lacking grinder, and the answer for why he’s playing second base isn’t a knock on him. The Phillies have really awesome prospect depth right now, and there are real prospects at the same level better-suited to play CF, SS, and 3B, the spots Brito might traditionally be a better Low-A fit for. Mickey Moniak is a potential plus defender in CF, and oh yeah, last year’s first-overall pick. Arquimedes Gamboa is a potential plus defender at short; he’s a better defender now than Brito too, and got a bigger bonus in the same signing period. Third baseman Luke Williams was a third-round draft pick in 2015, and also fields his position extremely well for the level. Brito isn’t playing second base because he’d be an A-ball disaster at another position, he’s playing second base because that’s where the playing time is and because it’s a plausible position he might play in the majors some day. The more I started thinking about this, the more I realized there was a much more prominent prospect about whom these same points could be made.
I think it largely went without noting in the rest of the discussion about Yoan Moncada that by some he’s the highest-ranked “natural” second base prospect in many, many years. Dating back to his time in Cuba, Moncada has primarily been a second baseman, save for a brief and seemingly ill-fated trial at third last year out of deference to Pedroia. Like Brito, Moncada certainly has the tools for other positions, but the Red Sox chose not to start him at, say, shortstop and let him play his way to second. They also didn’t confiscate his infield glove and immediately kick him out to center like many teams do with fast, toolsy non-shortstops. It’s worth considering that while second has historically been treated like a developmental dumping ground, it’s right there with center field on the MLB defensive spectrum, and you can certainly like a second base defensive package more than a center field one.
Maybe the early second base placements for Moncada and Brito are a blip, but maybe they’re a little bit of a turning point. It’s been protocol for a while now that any right-handed throwing prospect who could even remotely handle shortstop played shortstop until it became too comical or MLB needs dictated. This includes some names that sound completely ridiculous in retrospect. Miguel Cabrera was primarily a shortstop for his first two pro seasons. Miguel Sano split time there for a few seasons in the low-minors. Some of these guys even made the majors before getting shuffled around; big, hulking slugger Mike Morse played 55 games at short for Seattle in 2005, and Gary Sheffield manned the six-spot in his age-19/20 seasons.
Teams have historically pushed the envelope here because if you win the lottery and get Corey Seager to stick at short, you’ve got a much more valuable player than you would have had if you slid Corey Seager down the defensive spectrum years early. But a lot of times you can see the organizational logjam coming years ahead of time, too. The Phillies have a strong glove in Freddy Galvis as their MLB shortstop, waiting to be pushed aside by our number four-ranked prospect in J.P. Crawford. Crawford’s strongest point is his glove, and he’s pretty darned likely to still be the Philadelphia shortstop if-and-when Daniel Brito hits. Between Crawford, Galvis, Gamboa, and the next few years of free agency and trades, it’s hard to come up with a plausible scenario where Daniel Brito can lay claim to the Phillies shortstop gig. Why not get him acclimated to a position he is far, far more likely to see major-league reps at? If he ever ends up as a MLB shortstop, things have gone so horribly wrong or right that there will surely be another story to tell.
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