The defensive profile of a player has always been important to scouts, but recently the public’s understanding of defense has expanded. Advanced stats and video analysis have allowed even casual fans to break down defensive plays. Even so the baseball world is only starting to scratch the surface of defense and its value. In terms of raw tools defense is a component of speed, arm, and glove, but instincts and coordination also play a big park in defensive success. Rather than break down the best of each across the system I am going to break down the defensive profiles of major position groups in terms of the players that best exemplify that tool for that position.
Catcher defense is the farthest behind in terms on analysis because it touches so many part of the game. We can measure pure arm strength by pop times, and a good throwing catcher will limit how much opponents even try to run. Tommy Joseph has a cannon of an arm, it is at least a plus tool, only limited by his ability to get moving his arm has accuracy to go with the pure power. Catcher receiving is often underrated and as fans we often look at their ability to block balls in the dirt and out of the zone, but a catcher who is quiet in the zone can make a huge difference. Cameron Rupp offers pitchers a huge target and a quiet glove; he is not an elite receiver but he is very solid behind the plate. The whole package of catcher defense can be an incredible thing, a catcher combining both the receiving and arm can be worth many wins in value without hitting. It is not a complete package yet but Deivi Grullon combines an arm that could be plus plus by the time he is fully mature and he is a work in progress receiving but the feel is there to have a plus glove, giving him a near elite defensive profile.
At shortstop you want the best defender you have on a team. I could talk about Quinn’s range or Canelo’s potential, but the thing is JP Crawford is the best infield defender in the system. He has good range, good hands, and strong arm. There is still room for projection, but Crawford’s defense is good enough now to be his carrying tool to the majors.
At third base the two biggest things thought of are soft hands and strong arm, followed by range, but range can make all the difference between a gold glover and a questionable fielder. When it comes to hands Maikel Franco has incredibly soft hands to field any ball he can get too. His raw arm strength is likely better than Zach Green, but his hip throw does not flash the consistent plus strength of Green’s. Mitch Walding as much of the tools of the other two, as well as good range for his size, but the former shortstop is mostly just projection as he puts it all together.
In centerfield it is about getting to the ball. For some players this is about pure speed and for others their instincts and routes can allow them to get to ball quicker than other players. Carlos Tocci just glides around centerfield, he combines plus to better speed (that should improve with strength) with incredible instincts that allow him to cover most of the outfield. Tocci has an arm that should profile as plus as he puts on more strength but his arm is not on par with Jiwan James a former pitcher who has a plus plus arm that is an absolute weapon in centerfield.
When we think corner OF, we think cannon arm and Dylan Cozens fits the bill. A hugely physical player Cozens doesn’t have the arm of a Domonic Brown but he can get the ball in quickly. Beyond arm strength we don’t think of range in corners as much, except when it becomes a problem, but occasionally players with the speed to be average defensive center fielders end up feeling more comfortable in a corner position. Cord Sandberg has the physical tools to play center, but he is much more comfortable with the reads and routes in LF, and what happens is more than a straight transition of skills, an average center fielder becomes a potential elite defender in a corner.