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'D'-Listers: Lindor tops at shortstop
Indians prospect shines up the middle with tools, instincts
02/10/2014 10:00 AM ET
Francisco Lindor helped turn 62 double plays across two levels last season.
Francisco Lindor helped turn 62 double plays across two levels last season. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

As a couple of soon-to-be Hall of Famers once said, "Chicks dig the longball," and in that spirit, elite offensive prospects garner most of the praise.

Though multi-home run games and double-digit hitting streaks are a good way to become A-list celebrities in this corner of the Internet, there's also plenty of love for MiLBers on defense. Realizing that we have an entire season's worth of compliments to heap on the Minors' best hitters, we thought this a fitting time to acknowledge the Minors' best fielders.

With that in mind, we're happy to bring you the "D"-Listers -- baseball's run-preventing stars of the future. Last week, we began by highlighting some of the best young catchers. Today, we continue with the shortstop position, headlined by the top player in Cleveland's farm system.

The stud: Francisco Lindor, Indians

Dave Wallace has managed Lindor since the Puerto Rican was a 17-year-old with short-season Mahoning Valley in 2011. Lindor's arm strength, range and body control were obvious then, and those tools are a huge part of his defensive package. To Wallace, though, the physical abilities aren't his most impressive attributes.


A look at baseball's best defensive prospects:

Catchers (featuring Austin Hedges)
Center fielders (featuring Byron Buxton)
1B/RF (featuring Stephen Piscotty)
2B/3B (featuring Mookie Betts)
Shortstops (featuring Francisco Lindor)

"He is mature beyond his years, on and off the field," said Wallace, who likely will manage Lindor again with Double-A Akron this season. "You get a lot of young, talented shortstops that are just interested in style and being flashy and wowing everybody in the stands. Francisco can definitely do that and does do that, but that's not his focus out there. His focus is on making each play and being a leader out there."

Wallace raves about Lindor's ability to make adjustments. With Mahoning Valley, he positioned himself too deep at times and struggled to throw out faster runners on ground balls. By Wallace's recollection, Lindor got burned only a couple of times before making the proper adjustment -- figuring a runner's speed into his positioning. It was the first of many on-the-fly adjustments Wallace has seen Lindor make.

"He picks things up very quickly," Wallace said. "You only have to mention something to him one time and he'll take it straight to the game."

In 2 1/2 seasons, Lindor has polished himself into probably the Minor Leagues' best defensive shortstop, pairing elite athleticism with tremendous instincts. His feel for defense transcends the position, too. Lindor is a trusted leader, directing teammates like a quarterback calling an audible at the line of scrimmage.

"It's fun to watch him out there not only just make plays but direct traffic and be a leader," Wallace said. "It's something that comes naturally to him. It's not a forced type of leadership and it's not necessarily a real vocal leadership.

"I think that's why he's so easy to follow for other players. Not only is he usually the most talented or one of the most talented on the field, he's also one of the most focused and driven players on the field. That type of guy is easy to follow."

The finished product: Chris Owings, D-backs

Opinions vary a little on Owings' defensive ceiling, but there's little argument that he's ready to be a solid defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues. The 21-year-old has recorded 1,298 assists in 435 games at the position over five seasons in the D-backs system, developing into one of the most consistent middle infielders in the Minors.

"We got him when he was a high school player, so there were things to learn, but he wasn't a guy that we had to take and revamp how they were playing the position naturally," D-backs director of player development Mike Bell said. "As he's gotten comfortable out there, he's learned to read hitters and pitchers and position himself better. He's more consistent with his footwork and the game has been his best teacher, along with Tony Perezchica, who is now our fielding coordinator."

Owings' tools aren't necessarily the most distinguished on this list, but they are among the most polished. His range is good, as is his arm. His instincts are a strength and his intangibles receive high marks from folks in the D-backs organization, allowing him to perform at a level higher than a less motivated and less mature player with his athleticism might.

"He has a nose for the ball. He's athletic," Bell said. "He can make all the plays deep in the hole, up the middle, coming in on a body-control type of play. He's a talented young guy that has age on his side."

Despite being able to play shortstop, Owings may be forced off the position due to circumstance. Didi Gregorius already has a year in the Majors under his belt, meaning versatility could be Owings' ticket to a starting gig. He's already taken reps at second base, including as a September callup in 2013, and has the combination of athleticism and instincts and a grinder-type mentality to become a valuable utility player, not unlike Arizona's Martin Prado.

"He has the skill and the tool set to stay at short and to be an outstanding Major League shortstop," Bell said. "I also would have no problem having him be our center fielder, second baseman, third baseman, whatever. He's that type of player."

Name to learn: Ehire Adrianza, Giants

A 24-year-old from Venezuela, Adrianza may never hit enough to lock down a starting gig in the Majors, but he should prove a valuable asset because of his glove work. He's sure-handed and consistent, boasting a .968 fielding percentage last season and a .969 mark in 2012.

He's also capable of highlight-reel assists, like the embedded video of him hosing the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig last September.

Adrianza has been in the Giants system since 2006 and reached the Majors in 2013 after opening the season in Double-A. In between, he played 45 games with Triple-A Fresno, where Grizzlies manager Bob Mariano got an extended look at him.

"He's real smooth, has good lateral movement and range," Mariano said. "He's lanky and has nice hands, soft hands. He reads the ball well off the bat. He's a plus defender at every infield position."

Perhaps the only hole in Adrianza's defensive game -- if you're nit-picking -- is the lack of leadership and command skills of a player like Lindor. Mariano described the 24-year-old as "a real low-key guy" and suggested he would benefit from more time around veteran players.

"He has some aptitude, too," Mariano said. "He showed me something when he came up from our Double-A club. He had a solid month for us in Fresno. There's a pretty good, high upside, especially if his offense comes around."

The toolshed: Luis Sardinas, Rangers

The 20-year-old Venezuelan has played only 236 games at shortstop over four Minor League seasons since signing with Texas in 2009, so despite reaching Double-A, his defensive game is fairly raw. A tremendous athlete -- he stole 32 bases in 126 games last season -- his wheels, arm and body control are all assets at the position.

"He has natural actions," said Double-A Frisco manager Jason Wood, who coached Sardinas with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in 2013. "He's got speed. He's got quick, athletic ability, great side-to-side movement. His hands and his instincts are pretty darn good for his age right now."

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 150-pounds, Sardinas has the look of a player who will grow into a tremendous defender. What he needs is to be more consistent after committing 32 errors last year.

For starters, physical maturity and time in the weight room should help Sardinas stay healthy. The 20-year-old has played more than 100 games in a season just once, and a little strength should help him stay at or near 100 percent for an entire year.

The other area of focus for Sardinas is on the mental end. He's slowly matured into a professional player, and Wood thinks he made big strides a year ago. At Myrtle Beach, he challenged Sardinas to maintain better focus throughout games, and the youngster responded with an ever-improving mindset that allowed him to be better positioned and prepared.

"One thing we stressed last year was focusing in on every pitch throughout the course of the game, to keep the mindset of being in the game for every pitch," Wood said. "It allows him to position himself where he needs to."

Before every game, Wood informed Sardinas which set of signs the catcher would be using so he could better anticipate where batters might hit the ball. The Rangers' No. 3 prospect also stayed in contact with Wood and the coaching staff, taking regular instruction on adjustments necessitated by a variety of situations.

"He would look in there and see what pitch was going to be thrown, not just looking around in the stands," Wood said. "We want him in the right position, creeping the right way. He did a lot of that. His mind didn't wander too much last year, and that paid off."

Best among the rest:

Nick Ahmed, D-backs: Assessing Ahmed's defensive talents isn't the easiest task for the untrained eye. He has exceptional footwork and positioning, to be sure but doesn't always show the flash of other standout defenders. The consensus, however, is that he's one of the best, and as evidence, he led all Minor Leaguers with 21.3 Fielding Runs Above Average (per Baseball Prospectus) in 2013.

"He's so solid fundamentally, sometimes you assume he doesn't have the great play or acrobatic play in him, and that's not true," Bell said. "I've seen him make some plays where you almost have to go back and try to see the footage and film of it because, at first glance, you just can't grasp how great of a play it was."

Enough looks at Ahmed reveal that he's one of the Minors' best. His footwork and positioning are outstanding, as are his physical tools and instincts. Double-A Mobile manager Andy Green called him "hands down the best defensive shortstop in the [Southern League]" last summer. Ahmed also may be the best in the D-backs organization.

Deven Marrero, Red Sox: Drafted 24th overall in 2012, Marrero was the 2011 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year at Arizona State and has continued to shine with the leather as a pro. The Miami native has the athleticism, footwork and arm strength to shine at the position but also stands out for his intangibles.

"One thing he does that showed in the limited window he was with us is his instincts, his recognition of swings and obviously understanding the person on the mound as well," said Pawtucket skipper Kevin Boles, who managed Marrero at Double-A Portland last season. "He's in the right place at the right time and a lot of that stuff you can't teach."

Hak-Ju Lee, Rays: This time last year, Lee may have topped this list or at least bumped Owings out of "The Finished Product" spot. The 23-year-old South Korean was arguably the Minors' top defensive shortstop before missing most of the 2013 season with a knee injury. Now Lee is something of a wild card because his glove work is predicated on his lateral movement and quickness, things that could be affected long-term by the injury. If he returns to 100 percent, he could win multiple Gold Gloves up the middle.

Jose Peraza, Braves: Though Ahmed led the Minors in FRAA, he only narrowly edged out Peraza, who saved 20.4 runs in fewer games. Peraza is one of the Minors' fastest players, swiping 64 bases in 2013, and that speed translates to quickness in the field. The 19-year-old improved his consistency last season, improving his fielding percentage by 29 points to .944.

Raul Adalberto Mondesi, Royals: The son of the former outfielder with the same name, Mondesi shined last season as the second-youngest player in the South Atlantic League. His athleticism is his best asset, as he shows good range and a big arm. There's plenty of room for improvement, starting with upping his .934 fielding percentage, but the tools are there for Mondesi to blossom into a star defender.

Eric Stamets, Angels: Similar to Peraza, Stamets' standout tool is his speed, an asset he puts to great use chasing balls in the hole and charging choppers. A 2012 sixth-round pick out of Evansville, Stamets is a former Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year and has shined as a pro. Listed at 6-feet and 185-pounds, he has a slight build but a strong arm and is capable of making exceptional plays. He's also sure-handed, posting a .972 fielding percentage with Class A Advanced Inland Empire last season.

Honorable Mentions: Ketel Marte, Mariners; Roman Quinn, Phillies; Amed Rosario, Mets; Danny Santana, Twins; Wilfredo Tovar, Mets.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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