Which college position player is most likely to provide the most value as a defender?
It’s a fair question to ask in a draft where talent is so thin. At first glance, it seemed pretty obvious to me that Samford’s Phil Ervin offered the best chance of plus all-around defense (would really play up in RF), and a bat that would stay in the lineup. His recent 3 HR weekend will certainly help that reputation (even if it is against non-conference pitching). Just taking a brief look at the Top 100 list I quickly put together, these are the guys who stand out as being strong defenders with at least average bats (and potential for better):
- Michael Lorenzen, OF (Cal State Fullerton)
- JaCoby Jones, 2nd/OF (LSU)
- Austin Wilson, OF (Stanford)
- Hunter Renfroe, OF (Mississippi State)
- Brandon Thomas, OF (Georgia Tech)
- Adam Frazier, SS (Mississippi State)
- Michael O’Neill (Michigan)
More to follow after the jump…
For me, the problem with this question is that it quickly flips back to the other side of the ball, and it turns into a question of who has a good enough bat. It would probably be easier to focus if we had a strong measure of fielding out there for Division I ball. For right now, we’re more-or-less left to base this on reputation, and who can hit enough to be a regular and thus take advantage of their defensive talents full-time.
Cal State Fullerton’s Lorenzen has big arm strength and speed, with the former being a big asset. Many still view him as a pitching prospect since his offensive tools are in question, while his results on the radar gun are clear as day. Overall though, he really looks like he could save a ton of runs with his arm in keeping runners from taking the extra base or scoring period. His legs could also turn him into a big asset with solid range in center. Really it continues to all hinge on his bat, and if it will be good enough to keep him in the lineup regularly.
JaCoby Jones is definitely not short on tools on either side of the ball, and. Production-wise however that’s not readily apparent. With those tools and athleticsm though he could easily turn into a well above-average defender in time, with lots of understated value. I’m not quite sure where he ends up though, as he may grow out of a 2nd base role with center field becoming a more logical spot. Even there, his quickness and arm strength will play up and provide big value. He will need to start hitting first. Fortunately for him, the potential is certainly there, with his ceiling being well above-average for an up-the-middle bat.
Austin Wilson is also one of the toolsier college bats this year. His overall athletic ability, speed, and arm strength should be long-term assets when he goes pro. Similar to the above two players, he has yet to produce consistently in games with the bat. I wouldn’t rank him above Lorenzen or Jones in potential defensive value, but he could very well be an above-average defender.
Hunter Renfroe might just have the loudest tools of anyone in this group though. Of all those in this post (and maybe just about any other bat short of Judge or Wilson) have shown the kind of pop Renfroe has. As a defender, the Mississippi State OF runs well, is definitely athletic, and has as much arm strength as most any other outfielder in this class. The fact that he can play center after being a catcher in high school is impressive, and speaks to his natural ability. At the same time though, he’s incredibly raw so it’s hard to say if his well above-average tools will translate to the outfield as a professional. He might have as much potential as anyone here, but also just as much risk.
Senior Brandon Thomas is one of the most well-rounded outfielders in this year’s college class. Many viewed him as a top prospect last year, but he simply didn’t do enough to warrant a pick above round four, even with serious on-base skills. Returning to Georgia Tech this year, we should see him go higher with a valuable arm and range in center. Probably one of the safer picks here.
Michigan’s Michael O’Neill has plenty of tools, most of all speed. He was one of the fastest players in Cape Cod league action, albeit inconsistently so. He may have one of the better bats of this group however, or at least one of the more likely to produce ones.
Adam Frazier’s defense has always received good reviews. His patient and strong hit tool should make him a value at a position that sometimes punts on offense as well. Similar to Thomas, Frazier’s game is more about all-around talent than a few valuable, loud tools. It very much sounds like he’s an overachiever, who might prove to have a high floor, but not a ton more potential. He merits mention, but most likely can’t compete with a Lorenzen or Ervin for value on defense.
Phil Ervin really still looks like the most consistent, likely to be valuable defender at the next level. In my mind, Michael Lorenzen has the next-best mix of raw defensive tools (better than Ervin) and bat.
What do you guys think?