Thanks to the efforts of Sean Smith and Jeff Sackmann, we now have TotalZone stats for minor leaguers, which can be found at players' pages at Minor League Splits. Sackmann collects the minor league data. TotalZone is a creation of Smith's and has been used to measure major leaguers defense for quite a while now. You can read up on how reliable these stats are and how they translate here.
So far we have looked at shortstops, center fielders and second baseman. Charted below are the 2008 stats for the consensus top prospects at the hot corner, or at least those who played enough games at the position to qualify.
- Mike Moustakas was moved from shortstop to third base mid-season and took to it like a duck to water, but it's not like he was horrible at shortstop (+2). Moustakas has a howitzer of an arm, leading some scouts believe he could possibly handle catching. With Alex Gordon in the majors, he may have to change positions yet again at some point, but he's handled himself at third quite well so far.
- Mat Gamel made HUGE strides in the field, considering his past two seasons in which he had a -12 and a -23. Scouts still believe his glove is a ways off from being major league ready, but his bat will certainly make room for him somewhere.
- The scouting reports rate Josh Vitters' defense from "fringy" to average, but the numbers this past year at least rate it as a plus.
- On the flip side, the scouts believe Matt Dominguez's glove could play in the big leagues right now. He has even drawn comparisons to Mike Lowell. Yet TZ says hurt his team with his defense. Maybe with time Vitters and Dominguez will even out.
- Scouts like Danny Valencia's glove, but question his focus and consistency. I wonder what would happen if he did focus, because he's pretty good right now. He was also a +9 in AA this past season and a +26 at third through '06-'08. The Twins toyed with the notion of using him as their regular 3B this season before signing Joe Crede to a one-year deal.
- Defense is the reason the Cardinals will use David Freese to fill in for the injured Troy Glaus over Brett Wallace, their first round pick from last year. Wallace has a major league ready bat, but in just over 50 games he was a -6 defender. In 308 games, Freese is +23. Baseball America rated Freese the best defensive 3B in the Cal League in '07 (and deservedly, he was worth +12 runs), and he handled himself well in the Pacific Coast League. He is "old for his level", but he was a 5th year senior who just barely qualified for the draft. He's only played two full seasons in the minors.
Juan Francisco played well last season at third, improving on his -4 from the previous season, but he's expected to outgrow the position. Baseball America noted that some scouts are worried he'll grow into "Dmitri Young proportions" if he doesn't watch his conditioning. "El Gancho de la Carne" has a nice ring to it. (Hopefully that's good Spanish). Francisco has power in spades, but his plate discipline is pretty horrendous - 49 walks to 327 strikeouts in 1293 minor league plate appearances.
- Wes Hodges probably can't stick at 3B, (-15 in 222 games) and now has the task of trying to overtake Matt LaPorta, Beau Mills and Ryan Garko on Cleveland's depth chart. (LaPorta is listed as an outfielder, but he probably will not stick there. We'll talk about corner outfielders next.)
- Into 57 games of last season, the Dodgers mercifully pushed Austin Gallagher to 1B.
As with any defensive metric, the usual caveats apply. If I understand correctly, TotalZone is roughly akin to Dan Fox's SFR metric and is a big, big step up from anything else out there for minor leaguers. In my humble opinion, as long as it doesn't depart greatly from the scouting reports, it's probably +/- 5 runs of what the player actually was worth on the field. I tend to focus in on the players hitting double digits. If a guy is that good or bad, it's probably meaningful enough to take note of.