Getting Defensive: Center Field Prospects Worth Loving For Their Gloves

This is the second installment of a three-part series that will recognize the top defenders in the full-season minor leagues at the premium positions of catcher, shortstop and center field. First we looked at shortstop prospects.

To get a feel for the methodology of this defensive evaluation, follow the link above and read the introduction pertaining to minor league shortstops. The same principles apply to center fielders, except that putout opportunities are enhanced this time by pitching staffs with low groundout/airout ratios.

Here we present center fielders broken down level by level, from Triple-A down to low Class A, ranking the top 10 at each classification by their rate of putouts per game (PO/G). Players need at least 70 games in center field to qualify, but because the defensive data is presented to us as putouts at all outfield positions, those players who play exclusively center field will have an built-in advantage.

The putouts above average (PO+) column expresses the marginal putouts accumulated by each center fielder compared with what a center fielder recording putouts at the league average rate would have amassed in the same amount of playing time. Note that in this case, league averages are figured from only those center fielders who played at least 35 games at the position, which is equivalent to a quarter of the season. As noted above, though, the PO+ rate will skew high because center fielders in this exercise are compared with outfielders who, in many cases, spent a lot of time in left and/or right field, which reduces their fly-catching opportunity.


Triple-A

PUTOUTS PER GAME • MIN. 70 G
# CENTER FIELD
CLUB LGE ORG PCT G PO PO/G PO+
1 Todd Cunningham Gwinnett IL ATL .991 119 319 2.68 +37
2 Rico Noel El Paso PCL SD .982 100 266 2.66 +56
3 Julio Borbon Norfolk IL BAL .994 122 318 2.61 +29
4 Paulo Orlando Omaha PCL KC .994 131 329 2.51 +54
5 Jordan Danks Charlotte IL CWS .991 91 227 2.49 +12
6 Antoan Richardson Scranton/WB IL NYY .973 88 214 2.43 +6
7 Jason Bourgeois Louisville IL CIN .991 130 315 2.42 +7
8 Jake Marisnick New Orleans PCL MIA .986 85 205 2.41 +27
9 Gary Brown Fresno PCL SF .984 133 301 2.26 +22
10 Jason Pridie Colo. Springs PCL COL .983 100 224 2.24 +14

 

Who’s No. 1?
Gwinnett’s Todd Cunningham (Braves) led the International League in putouts (319), and he’s an above-average defender all around the outfield, though without profile arm strength for right field. The 2010 second-rounder switch-hits, owns a .345 on-base percentage at Triple-A and records average times while running to first base, so he could have a future as an extra outfielder.

Other Standouts
El Paso speedster Rico Noel (Padres) runs well (32 steals this year; 90 two years ago), switch-hits and draws plus grades for his range in center field, but like Cunningham above, a lack of impact potential with the bat make him an extra outfielder candidate . . . Omaha’s Paulo Orlando (Royals) can really run and defend, and the 28-year-old Brazilian is coming off his best season at the plate (.301/.355/.415 with 34 steals). Playing behind a flyball-oriented Storm Chasers pitching staff helped him lead all Triple-A outfielders with 329 putouts.

Big Performance, Small Sample
As we see from many of the best defensive center fielders at Triple-A, Columbus’ Tyler Holt (Indians) has easy range and plus fielding ability, but he doesn’t hit with enough power to profile as a big league starter. Cleveland called him up this summer, after he hit .305/.416/.382 with 31 steals at two levels of the minors, and he worked mostly as a defensive replacement. While at Columbus he recorded +7 putouts in 58 games to go with a .416 OBP.


Double-A

PUTOUTS PER GAME • MIN. 70 G
# CENTER FIELD
CLUB LGE ORG PCT G PO PO/G PO+
1 Michael Taylor Harrisburg EL WAS .997 88 276 3.14 +73
2 Billy Burns Midland TL OAK .979 87 229 2.63 +34
3 Lane Adams NW Arkansas TL KC .985 104 262 2.52 +28
4 Trayce Thompson Birmingham SL CWS .985 131 329 2.51 +34
5 Darrell Ceciliani Binghamton EL NYM .996 98 244 2.49 +18
6 Keon Broxton Altoona EL PIT .990 122 300 2.46 +19
7 Tyler Naquin Akron EL CLE .995 74 179 2.42 +8
8 Aaron Altherr Reading EL PHI .983 119 283 2.38 +9
9 Shannon Wilkerson Portland EL BOS .996 105 249 2.37 +7
10 Dariel Alvarez Bowie EL BAL .987 90 213 2.37 +6

 

Who’s No. 1?
Scouts don’t hesitate to throw double-plus grades on Harrisburg’s Michael Taylor’s (Nationals) range in center field, and it’s easy to see why with an off-the-charts rate of 3.14 PO/G that led anybody with at least 70 games at one level. Of course, Senators pitchers allowed an extreme rate of flyballs (1.14 GO/AO), but even so Taylor averaged nearly half a putout per game more than No. 2 Todd Cunningham (above). Taylor rounded out a terrific defensive profile with a plus arm (10 assists) and sure hands (one error).

Other Standouts
Midland’s Billy Burns (Athletics) marries top-of-the-scale speed with at least plus range and instincts to track down 2.63 PO/G. He stole 51 bases in Double-A, but hit a light .250/.333/.330, so he faces questions about his offensive ceiling . . . Northwest Arkansas’ Lane Adams led all Texas League outfielders with 262 putouts and possesses plus speed and range. The 24-year-old’s progress through the minors has been deliberate, but he established career highs for home runs (11) and steals (38) in 2014 . . . Super-athletic, 6-foot-5 Aaron Altherr (Phillies) could develop average tools across the board if he can rein in a wild hitting approach, but his speed plays in center field, and he hit a career-high 14 home runs at Reading.

Big Performance, Small Sample
Jackson’s Leon Landry (Mariners) helped instill confidence in a flyball-oriented Generals pitching staff by logging 2.47 PO/G and +23 putouts in 106 games. He’s an above-average defender with a line-drive stroke and gap power.


High Class A

PUTOUTS PER GAME • MIN. 70 G
# CENTER FIELD CLUB LGE ORG PCT G PO PO/G PO+
1 Albert Almora Daytona FSL CHC .995 87 211 2.43 +22
2 Travis Witherspoon High Desert CAL SEA .996 94 226 2.40 +13
3 Kyle Wren Lynchburg CAR ATL .974 76 181 2.38 +23
4 Alberth Martinez Lake Elsinore CAL SD .984 124 295 2.38 +14
5 Connor Harrell Lakeland FSL DET .997 126 296 2.35 +22
6 Teoscar Hernandez Lancaster CAL HOU .963 96 224 2.33 +7
7 Tyrone Taylor Brevard Cty. FSL MIL .993 129 290 2.25 +9
8 James Baldwin III R. Cucamonga CAL LAD .969 110 247 2.25 -2
9 Dalton Pompey Dunedin FSL TOR .981 70 157 2.24 +5
10 Gilbert Gomez St. Lucie FSL NYM .963 91 202 2.22 +4

 

Who’s No. 1?
Scouts rave about Albert Almora’s (Cubs) range and fly-catching ability, so it’s nice to see those impressions backed up by cold, hard data. His excellence really shows in light of Daytona’s 1.61 GO/AO ratio that ranks as the fourth-most groundball-oriented in the Florida State League. After reaching Double-A and hitting .270/.291/.392 at two levels this season, Almora is moving to the front of Chicago’s next prospect wave to follow in the wake of Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler.

Other Standouts
Lynchburg’s Kyle Wren (Braves) does everything he needs to do to profile as an extra outfielder, and that includes showcasing plus range and fielding ability in center. He hit .290/.350/.365 with 46 stolen bases in 132 games while reaching Double-A this year . . . A pair of Florida State League center fielders recorded high putout rates while also having the potential to be average or better with the bat. Brevard County’s Tyrone Taylor (Brewers) showed off his plus range even while stationed behind an extreme groundball pitching staff (1.70 GO/AO), while Dunedin’s Dalton Pompey (Blue Jays) might be the best pure defender among prospect-eligible center fielders. He showcased gap power, plate discipline and plus range to advance rapidly from high Class A to the big leagues this season.

Big Performance, Small Sample
Visalia’s Evan Marzilli (Diamondbacks) logged +31 putouts in 52 games prior to a promotion to Double-A Mobile, where he impressed managers enough to be voted best defensive outfielder. He logged 2.53 PO/G at the two stops, though a lack of a standout offensive tool limits his upside . . . Clearwater’s Roman Quinn (Phillies) doesn’t lack for plus tools, though he’s not much of a threat with the bat. He’s an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, even after an Achilles tear last year, who stands out with plus range in center field he used to finish with +21 putouts in 69 games.


Low Class A

PUTOUTS PER GAME • MIN. 70 G
# CENTER FIELD
CLUB LGE ORG PCT G PO PO/G PO+
1 Manuel Margot Greenville SAL BOS .992 96 253 2.64 +53
2 Breland Almadova South Bend MWL ARI .996 89 234 2.63 +47
3 Johnny Davis Wisconsin MWL MIL .961 107 267 2.50 +42
4 David Dahl Asheville SAL COL .982 83 203 2.45 +30
5 Jason Kanzler Cedar Rapids MWL MIN .986 83 198 2.39 +24
6 Aaron Barbosa Clinton MWL SEA .989 76 181 2.38 +21
7 Carlos Tocci Lakewood SAL PHI .980 124 288 2.32 +29
8 D.J. Davis Lansing MWL TOR .939 116 269 2.32 +25
9 C.J. McElroy Peoria MWL STL .986 122 279 2.29 +23
10 Adam Engel Kannapolis SAL CWS .983 74 166 2.24 +11

 

Who’s No. 1?
Greenville’s Manuel Margot (Red Sox) shows up on a lot of postseason prospect lists this year, including the South Atlantic League Top 20 Prospects and top 10 power-speed prospects, and here he makes another appearance, this time receiving credit for his range and fielding efficiency. While his putout rate decreased from 2.64 PO/G at Greenville to 1.81 at high Class A Salem in August, that alteration has as much to do with playing behind a flyball pitching staff with the former club (1.29 GO/AO) and a groundball staff with the latter (1.51 GO/AO). Margot profiles as a plus defender either way, showcasing above-average speed, range and efficiency.

Other Standouts
While the jury’s still out on how well they will hit as they progress, a trio of low Class A burners all turn in exemplary run times and also showcase plus range in center field. The group includes Hagerstown’s Rafael Bautista (Nationals), Lansing’s D.J. Davis (Blue Jays) and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis (Brewers). Bautista swiped 69 bases this year and finished just off the list with 2.21 PO/G and +16 putouts in 134 games, while D.J. Davis has first-round pedigree but not a lot of feel for the game after striking out 167 times in 121 games and committing an astounding 18 errors in the outfield . . . South Bend’s Breland Almadova (Diamondbacks) presents an interesting case as a 23-year-old college player (Hawaii) from the 2012 draft who nevertheless had a huge defensive year, leading all minor league center fielders with 345 putouts and 18 assists between South Bend and high Class A Visalia. He might not really be this good—and scouts don’t exactly love his bat—but after +63 putouts in 131 games at the two stops, he bears watching in 2015.

Big Performance, Small Sample
Minor league stolen base champion Mallex Smith (Padres) recorded +39 putouts in 63 games at Fort Wayne, but then logged -12 in 45 games at high Class A Lake Elsinore. He established personal bests with a .310 average, 88 steals and 69 walks this season, and he’ll need to bring all his secondary skills to bear because he has little to no power.


Playmakers

We’ll close with a nod toward the top playmaking center fielders in the minors, those with the most defensive “touches,” as measured by total chances per game.

CENTER FIELD TOTAL CHANCES PER GAME • MIN. 70 G
# PLAYER CLUB ORG G PO A E TC TC/G
1 Michael Taylor Harrisburg, Syracuse WAS 99 310 12 2 324 3.27
2 David Dahl Asheville, Modesto COL 99 265 13 8 286 2.89
3 Billy Burns Midland, Sacramento OAK 109 298 6 6 310 2.84
4 Todd Cunningham Gwinnett ATL 119 319 11 3 333 2.80
5 Breland Almadova South Bend, Visalia ARI 131 345 18 2 365 2.79
6 Rico Noel El Paso SD 100 266 4 5 275 2.75
7 Julio Borbon Norfolk BAL 122 318 4 2 324 2.66
8 Johnny Davis Wisconsin MIL 107 267 6 11 284 2.65
9 Evan Marzilli Visalia, Mobile ARI 133 337 5 5 347 2.61
10 Trayce Thompson Birmingham CWS 131 329 7 5 341 2.60

 

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