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2017 Top Minor League Defenders

December 22, 2017

While minor league prospects are often evaluated on their long-term outlook at the plate, their performance in the field can often make a more immediate impact upon their promotion to the major leagues. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top performing defensive minor leaguers ranked by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2017. Please note minor league DRS figures are calculated relative to the major league average at each position for ease of comparability.

2017 Minor League DRS Leaders
Player, Organization Primary Position DRS
Eric Stamets, Cle SS 24
Josh Fuentes, Col 3B 23
Ramon Laureano, Hou RF 22
Braxton Lee, TB/Mia CF 20
Scott Kingery, Phi 2B 20
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Tex 3B 20


Eric Stamets, a shortstop who spent much of the year at Triple-A Columbus in the Indians farm system, led all minor leaguers with 24 Runs Saved.Third base was the deepest position defensively, as four separate third basemen saved at least 16 runs. Since minor leaguers vary in both age and ability, let’s examine the defensive abilities among minor leaguers within three different age groups: 21 years old and under, between 22 and 24 years old, and 25 years and older.

Top Defensive Minor Leaguers—Age 21 and Under
Player, Organization Primary Position DRS
Carlos Tocci, Phi CF 12
Riley Unroe, TB 2B 12
Willy Adames, TB SS 8
Justin Williams, TB RF 8


The Rangers recently acquired Carlos Tocci via the Rule 5 Draft. They clearly view him at minimum as a useful fourth outfielder, and possibly as a future everyday center fielder if his bat can catch up with his glove. Additionally second baseman Riley Unroe also changed teams via the Rule 5 draft, as the Angels selected him from the Rays in the minor league portion. I wouldn't worry too much about Tampa Bay's future defense though, both Adames and Williams have the potential to be impact defenders at premium positions upon their arrival to the big leagues.

Top Defensive Minor Leaguers—Ages 22 to 24
Player, Organization Primary Position DRS
Josh Fuentes, Col 3B 23
Ramon Laureano, Hou RF 22
Braxton Lee, TB/Mia CF 20
Scott Kingery, Phi 2B 20
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Tex 3B 20


All of the top defensive minor leaguers between the ages of 22 and 24 are also listed on the overall minor league DRS leaderboard. Two of these players (Ramon Laureano and Braxton Lee) have been traded from the organizations that drafted them within the past six months, as Lee went from Tampa Bay to Miami in June, while Laureano was traded from Houston to Oakland this offseason. It's worth monitoring how this change of scenery affects Laureano and Lee defensively in the upcoming 2018 season.

Top Defensive Minor Leaguers—Age 25 and Older
Player, Organization Primary Position DRS
Eric Stamets, Cle SS 24
Jon Berti, Tor 2B 14
Rocky Gale, SD C 12
Joey Wendle, Oak 2B 12
Dusty Coleman, SD SS 12
Benji Gonzalez, Min SS 12


While he could immediately contribute defensively at the major league level, Eric Stamets is blocked by All-Stars Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Jason Kipnis at their respective infield positions for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see what role the Indians see Stamets playing for them at the major league level in 2018. The organization valued Stamets enough to add him to their 40-man roster to protect him from being selected in this past month's Rule 5 Draft, so it’s very possible that Stamets will be up with the Indians this upcoming season. Berti and Gale are both former late round draft picks who, to their credit, provide enough value defensively to get to the Triple-A level. However, Berti and Gale had on-base plus slugging rates of .584 and .693 respectively in 2017. In order for their careers to take the next step, these two, like the rest of the minor leaguers on this particular leaderboard (i.e. Wendle, Coleman, and Gonzalez), need their performance at the plate to become somewhat passable.


COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

Judging just from their stat pages:

Stamets, who's already 26, looks from his minor league record like he hits about well enough to be the starter on an expansion team.
Low-ish average and on-base, a little power.
Good enough that it seems likely he'll get some major league time some time, somewhere.

Josh Fuentes looks from his record like more of a real player, although not young enough to be 'hot' and he's been slow to advance levels. He'll be 25 before next season starts.
Good average, decent on-base, decent power.
Looks from his stat page like a guy who'll be a major league regular. He'd look better if he were a little younger or if he wasn't so slow in advancing.

Laureano, who's 23½, looks from his page like a younger version of Stamets as a hitter, but that's not as impressive when you're a RF rather than a shortstop.
Although: He hit very well in 2016 at A+ and AA, then not very well in 2017 at AA. If it's just that he was injured this year (or something) and 2016 is more representative, then he could be a player.

Braxton Lee, also 23½, is a singles-hitting CF, apparently with speed but with a mediocre SB success rate. Looks from his stat page like a guy who'd be a medium-level throw-in in a trade; some team might think they can "fix" him and turn him into something like Denard Span.

Kingery, will be 24 in April, does look like a real player although he was a little slow to emerge. He only looked 'OK' before this year, but then had a very good year, high average with power -- super in AA for half a season, quite good in AAA the rest of the year.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, turns 23 before next season, I don't think he's related to Ralph :-) .....has been up-and-down as a hitter but it looks like he'll be a major league regular and could be a star -- if he's really that good of a fielder.
Why I wonder: The way he's been used, which is "all over the diamond," you have to wonder. I think it's usually a mark of a guy not being very good at any one position, or being groomed to be a super-sub.
If he's not that great a fielder, he looks like he could aspire to be Ben Zobrist.

I'll leave to it anybody else to do the rest of the players if anyone wants to.....

10:17 PM Dec 23rd
any of these guys hit?

Cuz if not, we aint never gonna see em. Except maybe in the late innings.

7:49 PM Dec 23rd
Wow - thanks!
12:48 AM Dec 23rd
Side thought: It's a good bet that it'll be a long time till whatever deep aficionados of classical music who are also baseball fans (however few of us there may be) :-) will be able to see or hear that shortstop's name without thinking of the semi-major 18th c. composer.*

4:33 PM Dec 22nd
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