When we tend to think about minor leaguers the first thing that jumps into most of our minds is “what is he hitting” or “what’s his ERA”. They come with numbers that give us perspective on the players performance. The numbers have been engrained in us since we were children. While the numbers have changed over the past 15 years in terms of what we now know is more important, we still lead with batting average and ERA for players when discussing them in most cases.
It’s not until we get pretty far down the list on most players that we begin to discuss something like their defensive value. Part of that is there haven’t been reliable defensive numbers out there for very long, and even the ones we use today leave plenty of wiggle room. It makes it harder to discuss as the comparison from one player to the next is difficult to make. No one can watch two players hit and tell you which one is the .280 hitter and which one is the .300 hitter, but the numbers can tell us that. Watching defense is an entirely different thing. There are no counting stats to add up at the end and say he’s a “whatever number” defender. With the new technology in Statcast, we may be able to actually do that soon at the big league level, but we aren’t there just yet. We have to rely on numbers with plenty of wiggle room in them (UZR – Ultimate Zone Rating, or the +/- system from John Dewan and Baseball Info Solutions are the best ones out there in my opinion) or on the word from professional scouts who have a large base of knowledge and viewings of what a certain level of defender is.
With all of that said, I wanted to write today about two guys that are standing out defensively in the minor leagues right now. It isn’t something we talk about often and today seemed like as good of a time as any to talk about these guys and what they’ve been able to do.
The Reds drafted Joe Hudson out of Notre Dame in the 6th round of the 2012 draft and he signed quickly, but wound up missing the entire season after breaking his wrist in practice before the season began in Billings. He spent the better part of the last two seasons in Dayton before earning a short call up to Bakersfield late last August.
Hudson was known as a strong defender coming out of college and his time in the system prior to 2015 showed that for the most part. He’s had some struggles on passed balls, though at the minor league level especially, it’s not always easy to figure out exactly who was responsible for those. Where Hudson has really shined is controlling the pitching staffs he’s been in charge of. If you talk to the pitchers they always speak highly of his ability to call a game and you never see them shake off anything he puts down. In the 2013 and 2014 seasons he also controlled the running game incredibly well, throwing out 98 of 223 attempted base stealers (44%).
This season he’s been even better behind the plate. He’s thrown out an incredible 13 of 19 attempted base stealers (68%). He’s also helped Daytona Tortugas pitching staff post a 3.13 ERA so far this season. Hudson’s shown a plus throwing arm that’s also very accurate and he’s known to be a quality pitch framer behind the plate as well. His bat has also picked up this season compared to past years, despite playing in a much tougher league to hit in.
Down in Dayton there’s a player who has been turning some heads with his defense this season. Shortstop Luis Gonzalez, who you may recall getting plenty of playing time later in the spring with the big league club, has made numerous impressive plays this season.
The 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic has made 13 errors this season, but he’s still posted a .941 fielding percentage despite the higher error total because of his ability to get to so many baseballs. You heard rumblings throughout the organization last season about his defensive abilities, but see it is another thing.
He shows range to both sides and has a rocket for an arm when he really needs to show it off. His actions are quick in the field and he’s very athletic, though he does still need some refinement. At his age though, he’s ahead of most guys in just about every area defensively. If you have a chance to get out to a Dayton game this season, keep an eye on him when the Dragons are in the field.