The Worst Minor League Defenders
When a prospect gets a reputation as a bad fielder, his chances of future success go down, fast. An infielder like Joel Guzman could be permanently moved to a less defensively-demanding position such as first base or a corner outfield spot. A poor outfielder such as Jack Cust becomes viewed as a DH, relegating him, in all likelihood, to DHing in Triple-A.
Some of those reputations are deserved; others aren't. However, the point is only that bad defenders in the minors are easy to overvalue: if, say, Elvis Andrus's future is in left field, his future isn't as bright as it is if he proves he can make the grade at shortstop.
It isn't yet clear how minor league defensive numbers translate to their equivalents at the big-league level, but it seems like a safe bet that the overall quality of defense goes up. Thus, a player who is below average in the minor leagues isn't likely to contribute with the glove when he earns a promotion to the show - that is, if he stays at that position at all.
Yesterday, we looked at the best minor league fielding performances of 2006. Today, let's turn to those guys whose gloves may keep them from advancing, or whose performance may send them spilling down the wrong side of the defensive spectrum. As I pointed out yesterday, these numbers aren't a final judgment on each player's defensive skill - they are simply a good estimation of how well he performed this past season. Young players can still improve, and lady luck can reverse itself.
The lists are generated by the same method as the "Best of" lists in yesterday's article. IP is the number of innings played at the position (there's a minimum of 600 for inclusion), PAA is the number of plays above an average fielder at that position in that league, and PAA/150 is plays above average per 150 games. Of course, for the worst fielders, PAA and PAA/150 will be negative. Once again, the numbers aren't adjusted for park, league, or level.
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Edgar V Gonzalez AA/AAA Flo 697.3 -36 -70 Hector Pellot A Nym 803.3 -38 -64 Micah Furtado A+ Tex 629.3 -29 -63 Felix Molina AA Min 852 -31 -49 Corey Wimberly A+ Col 682.3 -23 -47 Isaac Omura A Oak 632 -20 -44 Nate Spears A+ Chc 711 -23 -44 Dan Dement AA Was 1064.7 -34 -43 William Bergolla AAA Cin 820.3 -25 -42 Jeff Natale A/A+ Bos 741 -23 -42
Few of the names at the top of this list have much of a future with their bats, so these fielding numbers may be the final nails in each coffin. Bergolla's defensive skills will probably keep him from having much value in a utility role, and Natale's - as has been predicted since he was drafted - will surely lead to a move away from second base. The notable prospects who are significantly below average are Kevin Melillo of the A's, Martin Prado of the Braves, and Hernan Iribarren of the Brewers.
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Koby Clemens A Hou 705 -28 -54 Chase Headley A+ Sdp 1099 -32 -40 Bryan Bass A+/AA Bal 1000.3 -28 -38 Brian Snyder A+/AA Oak 846.3 -23 -37 Ryan Braun A+/AA Mil 1008.7 -27 -36 Ryan Barthelemy A+ St. 638.7 -16 -34 M. Vechionacci A/A+ Nyy 1112.3 -28 -34 Matthew Brown AA Laa 1123.3 -27 -33 Josh Fields AAA Chw 973.3 -24 -33 Mike Kinkade AAA Flo 615 -13 -31
Again, these numbers match up with conventional scouting analyses in a couple of big-name cases. Braun is a good bet for an eventual move to the outfield; Fields has already begun working on a possible transition. Braun's stats over the course of the year make a case for either the volatility of defensive stats or the difference between Single-A and Double-A. He was slightly above average in his half season in the Florida State League, but in fewer than 60 games at Double-A, he was 28 plays below average. Other prospects on the wrong side of average are Eric Campbell (-27 PAA/150) and Matt Tuiasosopo (-21).
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Diory Hernandez Rk/A+ Atl 664 -33 -67 Sergio Santos AAA Tor 1116 -53 -65 Matt Smith A Tex 1039 -47 -62 Ian Desmond A+ Was 768.3 -31 -56 Eduardo Nunez A/A+ Nyy 831.3 -34 -55 Alcides Escobar A+ Mil 689 -27 -55 Chris Nelson A Col 951.7 -35 -50 Jeffrey Dominguez A/A+ Sea 868.3 -31 -48 Chris McConnell Rk/A Kan 967.3 -31 -43 Matt Maniscalco AA Tam 887.3 -27 -41 Elvis Andrus A Atl 894 -26 -39
When the Blue Jays traded Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista for Troy Glaus and Sergio Santos, they couldn't have made a much more lopsided deal, at least so far as defensive performance is concerned. In addition to Alcides Escobar, there are a number of fielders whose gloves have gotten raves but did not score well with Range: Erick Aybar and Chin-Lung Hu are a bit below average, Asdrubal Cabrera came out at -36 PAA/150, and Ben Zobrist ended up at -30.
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Jerry Gil AA/AAA Ari 800 -36 -61 Kevin Mahar AA Tex 609 -22 -49 Juan Senreiso A+ Kan 825.3 -25 -41 Clay Timpner AA/AAA Sfg 1079.7 -31 -39 Joe Holden SS/A Nym 841.7 -24 -38 Trevor Crowe A+/AA Cle 722.7 -20 -37 Austin Jackson A Nyy 1089 -28 -35 Jeff Salazar AAA Col 712.3 -18 -35 David Murphy AA/AAA Bos 891.3 -23 -35 Austin Jackson A Nyy 1097 -28 -34
Matt Kemp and Reggie Willits both scored just below average in this metric, but other than those two, there aren't a lot of discrepancies between conventional scouting wisdom and this year's center field numbers. Fernando Martinez made 7 fewer plays than average in just over 600 innings, but his future is probably in a corner. The only surprise on this list is that a center fielder could conceivably be bad enough to cost his team more than two wins with the glove - and keep getting starts in center.
Left Field/Right Field
Player Level Org IP PAA PAA/150 Mitch Jones AAA Nyy 735 -30 -55 Shin-Soo Choo AAA Sea 681.7 -27 -53 Brian Mc Fall A+ Kan 920.7 -36 -53 Daniel Carte A Col 954.7 -34 -48 Ryan Harvey A+ Chc 998.7 -34 -46 Delwyn Young AAA Lad 1088.3 -37 -46 Brian Pettway A Tor 872.7 -29 -45 Xavier Paul A+ Lad 993.3 -33 -45 Garrett Guzman A+/AA Min 905.7 -30 -45 Sergio Pedroza A Lad 760.3 -25 -44
Some of these players may well bounce back to be average, or slightly below-average defenders, but it's worth noting that these ten outfielders - plus Sergio Pedroza, Chris Lubanski, and a few others - were all worse with the glove than Jack Cust. More shocking than that is that Lubanski saw 225 innings in center field. I use the verb "saw" because it appears that's all he did: in that time, he was 17 plays below average, resulting in -104 PAA/150, a performance so bad I don't have an adjective for it. Other familiar names within spitting distance of the Cust line: Jeffrey Corsaletti, Ryan Patterson (who also, inexplicably, saw 141 innings in center, with Lubanski-like results), Nolan Reimold, and Billy Butler.
By Way of Conclusion...
If you're interested to see more, these numbers are now available for every 2006 minor league player at MinorLeagueSplits.com. In another year or two, with additional full seasons of play-by-play data, it will be easier to make confident claims about the defensive skill of minor leaguers. It also may be possible to analyze the effects of position switches, so when all of these players become corner outfielders, we can predict whether they'll give Chris Lubanski - or even Jack Cust - a run for his money.