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MiLB’s best of the decade: Defensive plays

Accidentally or on purpose, stellar outs turned into viral web gems
December 23, 2020

Win or lose, there are always opportunities for prospects to stand out on defense, to make highlight plays that turn into web gems that ultimately go viral. In the 2010s, there was no shortage of these kinds of feats. There were dazzling displays of athleticism with bodies sacrificed to make

Win or lose, there are always opportunities for prospects to stand out on defense, to make highlight plays that turn into web gems that ultimately go viral. In the 2010s, there was no shortage of these kinds of feats. There were dazzling displays of athleticism with bodies sacrificed to make catches on any terms, quick reactions by players who acted before they could think and speedy analytical determinations on how to get jobs done.

Narrowing down these stunts over the course of an entire decade proved almost as difficult as the plays themselves. Truth be told, we could list 10 on any given night. With that in mind, here are 10 that stuck in our minds long after the superlatives were doled out and reshared over and over on social media. caps our review of the past decade with a few of our favorite defensive plays. In earlier editions, Toolshed highlighted the top Offensive Players, Starting Pitchers and Relievers of the 2010s. We also looked at top Performances and Games.

10. Not the last Straw: Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies center fielder Myles Straw was a busy man during the bottom of the third inning against the Albuquerque Isotopes on July 20, 2018. He handled all three putouts that frame, also vanquishing David Dahl and Mike Tauchman. But it was the middle one at the expense of Ryan McMahon that elicited exclamations. Straw backpedaled up the hill in dead center and then lost his balance, falling backward. Straw was down but not out, though, as he regained enough composure to be able to stretch out for and haul in the ball. He made his big league debut with Houston a couple months later. Box score

9. The buddy system: The adage “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” seemed oh-so-appropriate on May 5, 2012. With the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks down to the San Antonio Missions in the eighth at Whataburger Field, Nate Freiman belted one to deep left-center. Left fielder Austin Wates and center fielder Brandon Barnes went over the short fence into the Hooks bullpen simultaneously. Wates emerged with the ball in his outstretched glove and a joyous Barnes at his side. Box score

8. Rocking the Bote: Sometimes a play even surprises the guy who made it. Such was the case on July 17, 2016, when David Bote ventured as far down the first-base line as he could possibly go to snag a ball in foul territory to end the eighth for the Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The first baseman recalled taking off on a full sprint with his back to the ball, keeping an eye on the Dash bullpen mounds at BB&T Ballpark ahead of him after Winston-Salem’s Nick Basto popped it up. Bote ultimately made the catch, sliding under the cleared pitchers’ bench. “I was shocked. I was like, man, that was crazy," he said. Box score | Complete story

7. Cleanup on aisle 2: In the April 26, 2014 box score, it looked like a simple groundout to Double-A Akron RubberDucks second baseman Tony Wolters in the first inning, but in reality, the Altoona Curve’s Willy Garcia fell victim to a shovel play on a slow tapper. The ball got by right-hander Cody Anderson and, without time to make a transfer, Wolters showed the foresight to use his glove to sweep the ball to first baseman Bryan LaHair. The slick infielder recently elected free agency after 4 1/2 seasons with the Rockies. Box score

6. With his bare hand: It would have been a tough enough play for Triple-A Gwinnett Braves second baseman Jace Peterson to make as an over-the-shoulder catch when he ranged into shallow center in the second inning on June 9, 2017 at Coolray Field. But that wasn’t the whole story, since the now-free agent – a veteran of five Major League clubs – drifted back and plucked the Charlotte Knights' Rymer Liriano’s fly ball out of the air with the hand his glove was not on. The force pulled Peterson to the ground, but he still did not relinquish his hold on the ball. Box score

5. He did what?: The only thing missing from Mike Freeman's feat for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs on Aug. 28, 2017 was "Sweet Georgia Brown" playing in the background. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Wilfredo Tovar of the Memphis Redbirds hit a cue shot over the mound that bounced twice on the infield grass at AutoZone Park. Freeman barehanded the ball, but his momentum was carrying him toward home plate. So he made a behind-the-back flip to first baseman Ali Solis that nabbed Tovar by about a step. Box score

4. A play so nice, he made it twice: 2013 was not an Olympic year, but Alden Carrithers had a vault for the ages. On June 30, the Gwinnett Braves third baseman raced into foul territory to track down a popup off the bat of the Norfolk Tides' Buck Britton. As he approached the visiting dugout, he leapt and hurdled over the railing. Despite a hard landing, he held on to the ball for the out. Less than a year later, Carrithers was manning the hot corner for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats against the Albuquerque Isotopes when he lunged over the railing for another foul pop, this time tumbling into the dugout. Braves box score | River Cats box score

3. Goooooooooooal!: When Myrtle Beach Pelicans first baseman Cam Balego saw Marco Hernandez lay down a bunt for the Salem Red Sox on May 3, 2019, he headed to the bag, anticipating an easy play. "The next thing I know, I've got a baseball being kicked at me," he said. Pelicans pitcher Javier Assad was responsible for the improvisation. He fielded the bunt easily enough, but mishandled the ball as he veered from the mound toward Balego. "At first, I saw it fumbled and thought the play was going to be ended. The next thing you know, I have a baseball at my chest and was like, 'Oh, wow,' and kind of processed it, that he kicked it to me," Balego said. "It was kind of crazy, him kicking a baseball." Assad also did well with his arm, pitching six scoreless innings. "If a kickball [game] ever happens or we're going to play Hacky Sack or soccer, I know who I'm going to pick," Balego joked. Box score | Complete story

2. Gem of gems: The Class A Advanced Down East Wood Ducks flashed the leather all night in their 4-3 Carolina League loss at Winston-Salem on July 7, 2018. But left fielder Alex Kowalczyk and shortstop Anderson Tejeda teamed up on the play that made all the highlight shows. With one out and a runner at first base in the bottom of the eighth, Gavin Sheets sliced a foul ball down the left-field line. After covering a lot of ground, Kowalczyk slid by the visiting bullpen but had the ball bounce out of his glove. Showing just as much hustle, Tejeda snagged it on the fly and whipped a throw back to first to double up Blake Rutherford. In the opening inning, Wood Ducks right fielder Franklin Rollin used a full-extension dive to rob Nate Nolan of an extra-base hit. And Rutherford encountered more bad luck in the fourth when pitcher Emerson Martinez made a casual between-the-legs snare of his comebacker. Box score | Complete story

1. Three the hard way: The Triple-A Nashville Sounds turned two triple plays in 2011. The second was considerably more memorable than the first. On Aug. 20 in Omaha, the Brewers' Triple-A affiliate had a 4-1 lead in the third when the Storm Chasers put runners at first and second with nobody out. Clint Robinson, who won the Texas League Triple Crown the season before, ripped a liner to deep center. When the ball hit the top of Logan Schafer's head, the runners were off. But Schafer plucked the ball out of mid-air and threw it back to second baseman Eric Farris, who stepped on second and fired to first baseman Mat Gamel to complete the feat. "When the ball hits you on your head, it's pretty embarrassing, but I'm glad I could catch it," said Schafer, who was promoted from Double-A a month earlier. "(My teammates) were all laughing quite a bit, it's a pretty funny play. Everyone was kind of in disbelief and they were all cracking up." Box score | Complete story

Paige Schector and Daren Smith are editors for