Minor League Defenders to Watch According to Keith Law

By ALEX VIGDERMAN

Monday’s episode of the SIS Baseball Podcast featured The Athletic’s Keith Law, whose book “The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves” comes out April 21.

The conversation largely consisted of discussion of some of the cognitive biases that affect all of us to some extent and particularly baseball decision makers in the realm of player evaluation and roster construction (for those wondering about the board game Keith recommended at show’s end, Jaipur, is available virtually in multiple locations).

The last bit of the interview included Keith mentioning the prospects we should be interested in from a defensive perspective. Two of those names have come up in previous podcast episodes, and another might surprise you given his position.

Cristian Pache, Braves CF (FanGraphs Prospect Rank: 20)

We start with a name that I’ve heard a few times in prospect discussions over the offseason in Braves outfielder Cristian Pache. Unfortunately, he isn’t likely to play center field in the majors any time soon because arguably the best young player in baseball is currently manning that spot (Ronald Acuña Jr).

A move to a corner position should be just fine for Pache, who in his age-20 season split time across all three outfield positions. That included saving nine runs in just 20 games in right field, which was second at the position (he was among the defensive standouts mentioned on the September 4 episode of the podcast).

Pache’s arm shone in a small sample across Double-and-Triple-A, allowing only five runners to advance and retiring three runners without the use of a cutoff man in just 13 opportunities. Both of those rates were much better than the minor league average in 2019.

Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates 3B (FanGraphs Prospect Rank: 30)

Ke’Bryan Hayes was the guest on the SIS Baseball Podcast on August 20th, primarily because of his reputation with the glove (he’s won the Minor League Gold Glove at third base three years running). He ranks second in Defensive Runs Saved among minor league third basemen with at least 1,000 innings over the last two seasons, trailing only the Rockies’ Josh Fuentes (who won’t be making much noise at the hot corner any time soon, as he’s blocked by Nolan Arenado).

One of Hayes’ calling cards defensively is the jumping catch. He recorded the out on 11 plays where our Video Scouts saw him to field the ball over the last two seasons, which was second-most in the minors in the games we charted. His 73 percent success rate (11 for 15) tied for the best among those with at least 10 jumping attempts.

Evan White, Mariners 1B (FanGraphs Prospect Rank: 64)

If they say there’s no such thing as a first base prospect, imagine what “they” might say about a first base prospect on defense. Evan White might break that mold, and the Mariners are betting on that. They signed him to a six-year extension that was the first ever for a player without experience above Double-A.

White won the Minor League Gold Glove at first in 2018 after winning a couple collegiate Gold Gloves while at Kentucky. He followed that up in 2019 by ranking third among qualified minor league first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved.

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