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'D'-Listers: MiLB's top defensive shortstops

Brewers' Arcia ready to succeed Indians' Lindor as best in the Minors
March 2, 2015

In this corner of the internet, it's routine for a heavy-hitting Minor Leaguer to work his way into the headlines. Home runs and four-hit games tend to jump off the box score, giving fans a tangible piece of information on their favorite prospects.

We don't want to ignore those who specialize with the leather, though. Having spent most of the year making A-list celebrities of the Minors' best hitters, it's time to heap a little praise on the glove men. Here, we present the "D"-Listers -- baseball's run-preventing stars of the future.

After profiling the catchers last week, here's a look at the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

The Reigning Stud: Francisco Lindor, Indians

Lindor is on the big league doorstep, but until the 21-year-old graduates from the farm, he's unequaled in the Minor Leagues when it comes to defense. We wrote as much prior to the 2014 season, noting that his physical ability, polish and intangible talents formed a unique package for a Minor Leaguer.

The Indians prospect is an above-average runner with tremendous reactions and instincts on the dirt. He has the arm to go deep in the hole and polished footwork and agility in all directions. He's had the tools and confidence to make spectacular plays for a while, but he's also shown increasing consistency as he's aged, lifting his fielding percentage 19 points to .971 between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Beyond the athleticism and mechanical proficiency, though, Lindor is touted for his intangibles. He's only 21 but already is an established leader in the upper levels of the Cleveland system. He directs traffic around the infield with a veteran's presence and intelligence, and players listen when he speaks. That makeup is what sets Lindor apart from the competition in the Minors and should make for a relatively smooth transition to the Majors.

The Next Best Thing: Orlando Arcia, Brewers

Arcia is the younger brother of Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia but couldn't be more different as a player. While big bro is a 225-pound slugger, Orlando is a lithe 6-foot, 165 pounds with some of the Minors' best defensive chops.

The Venezuelan turned 20 last summer while playing with Class A Advanced Brevard County, where multiple evaluators thought he was the Florida State League's most impressive defender. One rival manager said Arcia was MLB-ready with the glove, or at least very close. Others used words like "superb" and "outstanding."

"He's definitely a plus defender," Brevard County manager Joe Ayrault said. "He's a guy -- he's what I call a two-out infielder. When the game's on the line, two outs, you want the ball hit to him. He makes all the routine players, then he makes the exciting plays as well."

Arcia has a complete arsenal, tools-wise. He earns plus grades for his range and arm and is advanced for his age with his instincts, hands and footwork. He has a flair for the dramatic, turning heads with highlight-reel assists. He's also reliable, posting a solid .961 fielding percentage while ranging for balls out of reach for most shortstops.

Arcia also boasts the kind of mentality and personality that coaches appreciate. He's more lead-by-example than rah-rah, but his energy is apparent and contagious. He's worked extensively with Brewers infield coordinator Bob Miscik on his leadership, communication and general awareness of other players on the infield. He's not quite "Lindorian" as an infield quarterback, but he's highly advanced for his age and level.

Milwaukee has developed a few defensive wizards this millennium in J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar. Brewers fans can expect similar glovework from Arcia, which is a staggering thing to say about a 20-year-old yet to reach Double-A.

"He's one of those guys, if something crazy happens, he could go to the big leagues and fill in right now," Ayrault said. "One of our sayings here is, 'Does he pass the eye test? When he gets called up, does he do all the things you expect a Major League guy to do making plays?' He's a guy who will pass the eye test over there in Major League camp. He'll definitely impress some people this spring."

Mr. MLB-Ready: Nick Ahmed, D-backs

Last year, Ahmed's teammate, Chris Owings, held this spot and went on to lock up the everyday gig in Arizona. Ahmed is unlikely to unseat Owings as the D-backs starter because Owings is a much more accomplished hitter, but Ahmed is more capable with the glove.

"He can change the game with what he does defensively," Triple-A Reno manager Phil Nevin said. "You see guys make the occasional great play and maybe struggle sometimes with routine plays. Nick's just a guy who makes every routine play, and then he makes a great play every other night."

Physically, Ahmed grades out above average or better across the board. He ranges well and features a plus arm. His hands work quickly and he's proficient with mechanics and footwork on all the plays.

"He's very graceful, very smooth," Nevin said. "He has tremendous hands. You don't see him bobble anything. You don't see the ball move in his glove. He has a smooth transition when he's throwing."

Ahmed stands out even more for what goes on in his head. He checks all the boxes coaches look for in a leader, drawing a Derek Jeter comparison from Nevin. He's situationally aware and eager to help teammates.

He's willing to be vocal, too. Once last summer, a Major League pitcher rehabbing in Reno coasted lazily through team bunting drills. Ahmed stopped the drill and called a team huddle, where he delivered an impassioned speech. When the drill resumed, the hurler -- along with the rest of the team -- was suddenly operating at max effort.

The 24-year-old also has a unique ability to anticipate plays based on pitch selection and what he sees.

"He's very good at reading -- this is strange to say -- but reading the ball out of the pitcher's hand," Nevin said. "I've heard him talk about this. The good ones do that. Jim Edmonds in center field could do that. They read the ball out of the pitcher's hand and sense the bat path. Sometimes he's moving before or as the ball's being hit."

Ahmed is the total package defensively and even put together a little breakout with the bat last year. If the offensive improvements are for real, he could push Owings to second base long-term or work his way into a starting role elsewhere. More likely, the bat plays best in a utility role, but the glove is easily good enough to warrant a big league roster spot. Ahmed got his first taste of the Majors last September and should compete for an MLB spot this spring.

The Toolshed: Raul Mondesi, Royals

Darryl Kennedy managed Mondesi -- son of the former Major Leaguer with the same name -- at Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2014 but got his first look at the shortstop when he was only 16 years old. Mondesi flashed a few impressive characteristics back then, including work ethic, intelligence and composure. Physically, though, Mondesi was largely projection.

Last year, as an 18-year-old in the Carolina League, Mondesi showed both how much he's matured and how much more he could develop. He's taller and stronger than when Kennedy first coached him a few years back, and now his arm and range are both assets. Tools wise, he has an excellent starter kit to become a well above-average defender at short.

He isn't just an athletic project, though. Mondesi has superb instincts and is already advanced in the way he utilizes his abilities. He's a quick study and hungry for new information. For instance, Wilmington made spray charts of opponents available to its players last year, and Mondesi impressed Kennedy with how he utilized the information. It's tough to replicate the preparation of a Major League game in the Minors because the information available is so different, but Mondesi already shows the aptitude to suggest he'll thrive as a big leaguer in the age of Big Data.

"He looked at tendencies and took that into the game and was able to anticipate," Kennedy said. "He was one of those guys you didn't need to help with in-game positioning -- he memorized what this guy and that guy did at the plate. You could watch him when they came to the plate; he knew where to be. I think his intelligence with reading swings and positioning are very good, especially for a kid that young."

Mondesi is a strange case, because for as advanced as he is in many areas, he's still a teenager facing some of the same basic quandaries as his less talented peers. Namely, he's still growing into his body and learning how to control it. The one place Kennedy thought that showed last year was in his throwing accuracy. Mondesi committed 16 errors in 2014, and Kennedy wagered most were throwing miscues. He's still learning to corral his arm strength and manage his 6-foot-1 frame, but Kennedy expects improvement as he continues to ripen physically.

Mondesi arrived at the Royals' Surprise, Arizona, facility early for Spring Training this year and appears to have added strength in the offseason. That development should help him in the field and at the plate in 2015. The whole package, when it comes together, should make for a special defender up the middle.

"He shows great range, has the arm to make the play in the hole," Kennedy said. "Just his overall awareness on the field, it's fun to watch on a daily basis. Last year, I got to watch the things he did instinctually. It was very impressive."

Under the Radar: Cleuluis Rondon, White Sox

The age of the nickname has mostly come and gone, but in Rondon, Chicago fans have a ballplayer with a moniker befitting his skill set. Let us introduce you to "Los Manos" -- Spanish for "The Hands."

"He has terrific hands," Class A Advanced Winston-Salem manager Tommy Thompson said. "His hands are off the charts."

Rondon is an innately gifted defender. Thompson first coached him in 2013 at Kannapolis, where he mostly deployed Rondon at second base. The infielder dropped Thompson's jaw at the keystone, reminding the 57-year-old baseball lifer of Roberto Alomar. He even said as much to White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams at the Winter Meetings that year.

In 2014, Chicago found room to play Rondon at short and realized he was exceptional there, too. The 20-year-old can pick the ball and whip it across the diamond with the best of them. His transfer is lightning-fast, his range is well above average and his arm is strong enough to handle the left side. "Effortless" is how Thompson describes him.

"He makes the great, exceptional play sometimes look very easy," Thompson said. "Even on bad hops, his body positioning, his athleticism -- he's in a good position. Plus those hands -- he just reacts easily to the ball."

Rondon makes myriad plays you don't expect from any shortstop, but he could be more surehanded on the routine ones. He made 29 errors in 2014, usually after botching simple or only moderately challenging grounders. He also can play too quickly for his Minor League teammates and will benefit from more reps turning double plays.

"Sometimes he's a little flashy," Thompson said. " I think if he just calms everything down and just plays the game, he'll be fine."

Five more of note:

J.P Crawford, Phillies -- When the 2014 season started, Crawford looked a long way from the Majors. The 2013 first-rounder (16th overall) spent the beginning of the campaign building a routine -- figuring out how many grounders and backhands to field before games, learning how to manage his body, etc.

Over the first few weeks, he looked athletic but raw. Lakewood manager Greg Legg and infield coordinator Chris Truby noticed a mechanical issue and showed Crawford tape of himself to point it out. Legg declined to provide details on what they changed, but he was shocked by how quickly Crawford adjusted after the session.

That adjustment was the turning point. Since then, Crawford has been on a steady upward trajectory as a defender. He reads the ball well off the bat and has well above-average range. His arm is more solid-average than plus but should play on the left side, especially if he can polish his footwork and fundamentals. The 20-year-old is still raw but has impressed Legg and the Phillies with his aptitude, inspiring confidence he'll be mechanically sound within the next few years.

"Most infielders coming out of high school or even college, the backhand is not as good as you want it. You can always improve your footwork as an infielder. Things like that," Legg said. "It's very simple stuff that's going to take care of itself with him being in game situations."

Deven Marrero, Red Sox -- The choice to include Ahmed above and not Marrero was essentially a coin flip, with Ahmed getting the call based on a tie-breaking vote from a front-office person. Marrero has big range both up the middle and going into the hole. He's been considered fundamentally advanced since Boston took him 24th overall in the 2012 Draft, but Triple-A Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles thought the Arizona State product took another step forward last season.

"We've seen him get to the balls, but to be able to finish the play is the thing," Boles said. "He was able to finish that play, ranging to his glove side. He's always been above average, but the plays he was making deep in the 5-6 hole [between short and third] … not many guys can make those plays at the highest level."

Marrero also has all the intangibles teams want in a shortstop.

"He's very vocal and he knows he has a chance to be a premium defender," Boles said. "He's not cocky, just has confidence. He knows what he brings to the table and that the defensive part of his game is a plus. He's a leader. He's vocal with the third baseman and second baseman as far as positioning and shows real good awareness.

"He's proactive. Those are the players, the ones who are proactive and don't fear situations and take initiative, they are the ones who have success."

Ozhaino Albies, Braves -- The Braves are enamored with Albies, a diminutive switch-hitter from Curacao with flashy tools and a striking personality. He speaks multiple languages and plays with infectious energy. He's a plus runner and his 5-foot-9 frame scoots as quickly as any on this list. Reviews on his arm range from solid to above average and, at 18, he still has time to add strength.

Assistant director of player development Jonathan Schuerholz compared him to Jimmy Rollins earlier this offseason. Albies is a long way from the Majors, but the ceiling is a Rollins-like talent, making him one of the most intriguing full-season debutants in 2015.

Amed Rosario, Mets -- Rosario is another shortstop who should see Class A in 2015. The 19-year-old is a different kind of athlete than Albies, checking in at 6-foot-1 with a lean, wiry frame that could support more muscle with age. Rosario handles that size well, showing the range, arm strength and actions to encourage evaluators on his long-term defensive prospects.

Eric Stamets, Angels -- Stamets has been one of the Minor Leagues' best defenders for years but has flown under the radar because his bat is well behind his glove. The 23-year-old University of Evansville product is fleet of foot with speed that translates well on the dirt, and his arm is above average. His athleticism plays up thanks to tremendous instincts, hands and footwork. The bat doesn't look like it will work in an everyday role, but the glove should be enough to get Stamets to the Majors in the next few years.

Honorable mentions: Hanser Alberto won a Minor League Gold Glove and has established himself at Double-A. He could insert himself into the Rangers' crowded middle infield competition over the next few seasons. ... Carlos Correa impressed evaluators with the strides he made before an injury shortened his 2014 season. His arm is among the best at the position. The rest of his defensive game is more solid-average than plus, but his instincts and work ethic could make him an asset at short early in his MLB career. ... Cleveland's Erik Gonzalez won't bump Lindor off shortstop but does profile as a plus defender with good range and a huge arm. ... Atlanta's Johan Camargo is another strong-armed shortstop who's more solid-average in other categories. The total package should be an above-average defender. ... Juan Herrera (Cardinals) and Jack Reinheimer (Mariners) impressed sources in the Midwest League, but for different reasons. Herrera has a ton of athletic ability but lacks consistency as a 21-year-old. Meanwhile, Reinheimer is one of the most polished shortstops around but has merely average tools across the board. ... Ayrault doesn't see a big gap between Arcia and Yadiel Rivera, and while other evaluators prefer Arcia, Rivera is also an excellent glove man. ... Wilmer Difo was a breakout performer with the Nationals in 2014. He's split time between second and short, but at least one opposing manager saw the tools necessary for Difo to profile excellently at short. ... Nick Gordon was the top high school shortstop in last year's Draft class and gives Minnesota a potential plus defender in the lower levels of the Minors.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.