Most of the time, a top prospect gets attention for his bat. It only makes sense, because offense is much easier to quantify in a line score that defense but great minor league defenders can really make an impact. It is an underrated skill that most players lack in the early stages of their careers, but this list is not for those. We are going to highlight the best gloves in the system in typical Gold Glove Award Fashion
2015 Atlanta Braves Minor League Gold Glove Awards
Manny Banuelos went the entire 2015 season without making an error at Gwinnett. Despite only pitching in 16 games he still led the GBraves pitching staff with 17 assists. His 1.13 Range Factor easily led all pitchers with more than 8 games played, and he was involved in one of the 10 double plays that involved a pitcher this year. Pitcher defense is a tough thing to judge but Banuelos really stood out this season.
This was a tough choice, as many catchers had good seasons. Tanner Murphy was a solid backstop all season even while dealing with some wildness down in the lower minor leagues, and Jonathan Morales had crazy caught stealing numbers with the GCL Braves. Bethancourt was the only catcher to put both skills together this season. Long known for his athleticism behind the plate, Bethancourt's glove has yet to catch up to the outrageous expectations put on them. While his major league performance has left much to be desired he was nothing short of phenomenal in Gwinnett this year. He threw out 14 of 32 base runners this year, which is a career best rate. He only allowed 1 passed ball this season, and had as many double plays as errors. He has a lot left to improve on, but he showed some positive signs in the minor leagues this year.
Meneses easily stood out amongst first basemen in the system this year, with a nice .994 fielding percentage. He has been a solid defender his entire career, but he really stepped his game up a notch this season. The confidence in this pick is not a knock on the rest of the guys in the system, as Kevin Ahrens, Matt Tellor, and super utility man Barrett Kleinknecht all had great seasons. That said, Meneses was far and away ahead of all of those on defense, and even showed the athleticism to take on a few games in right field this year.
Reed Harper was the best of an admittedly weak second base class. He is not the fastest guy, nor does he have the best arm but he really plays a solid second base. He only made 2 errors in 63 games at second base with Carolina this year and had a knack for being in the right place to make plays. He showed the versatility to play all around the infield, and really shined late in the season. Not only has he been the best defender all season, but every now and then he went out of his way to make a spectacular play (yes I know this was as a shortstop)
Third base is not usually a position of defensive strength for any team, and that goes double for the Braves system. That's not to say that Rio Ruiz didn't have a good season-he did. It's just to say that there really wasn't anyone to compare him to. His 16 errors were a bit of a problem, but he showed suprising range at third base. He has a very good arm and can get the ball across the diamond with ease and he really improved every aspect of his defensive game. He has put in work recently and it has started to show on the field. Ruiz is a very good athlete who has a chance to fit at the major league level at the hot corner.
Castro does not have the range of Ozhaino Albies or the arm of Johan Camargo, but he is easily the most consistent shortstop in the system. He made a few more errors than he has in the past, but still showed solid all around defensive skills at the positions. He mentally prepares himself well and is rarely caught out of position. His arm is unspectacular but he uses it well. He shows good footwork and is typically very good around the bases and with the glove. COmbine all that with soft hands and you have the makings of an easily above average middle infielder
Daris is one of the faster players in the systemm and spent more time in left field than any other player in the system expect Dustin Peterson. While Peterson had a surprisingly good season of his own, Daris really stood out for his range in left field. He is a true center fielder who was forced to the corner by equally good defenders Stephen Gaylor and Keith Curcio, and when given the opportunity he locked down in left field. He only made 5 errors on the season and continued to improve with the glove down the stretch.
Keith Curcio is probably the most underrated player on the list, and earned himself consideration for the system's Platinum Glove award (you will see that later). His major league projectability questionable at this phase, but there is no questioning the defensive skill of the Florida Southern graduate. He only made 1 error in center field this season which was good for a .995 fielding percentage. His 2.56 range factor was among the best in the system and his versatility led him to a few games at second base down the stretch. He possesses fringe plus speed but takes very efficient routes and really jumps well on fly balls. He can get to everything hit out there and he is one of the most fun players to watch play defense this year.
If I had to bet on one player on this list to win a major league gold glove award in the future it would be Connor Lien. Not only does he have solid major league potential (there are some holes in his bat but we aren't here to discuss that) he is one of the best all around athletes in the system. He has easy plus to fringe plus plus speed and he uses it very well in right field. He is an elite defender in the corner and his routes and reads are amongst the best in the minor leagues. He then makes it unfair by adding in plus arm strength that allowed him to record 21 outfield assists. His 2.72 range factor is pretty ridiculous for a corner outfielder, and he only made 3 errors in right field the entire season