Presenting top plays by position from the first half
Throughout the first half of the Minor League season, fans were treated to some remarkable, jaw-dropping, eye-popping and show-stopping displays of defensive excellence. We’ve broken down the best of the best in our weekly Top 10 countdown, and brought fans into the conversation with our voting for Plays of the
Throughout the first half of the Minor League season, fans were treated to some remarkable, jaw-dropping, eye-popping and show-stopping displays of defensive excellence.
We’ve broken down the best of the best in our weekly Top 10 countdown, and brought fans into the conversation with our voting for Plays of the Month. The end of the first half provides an opportunity to look back on the plays that deserve another day in the sun.
From robbed home runs, diving catches and the heads-up plays that show off high baseball IQs, here are the best plays of the first half from each position on the diamond.
Pitcher: Sterling Sharp, Triple-A Rochester, May 7
The season has had some interesting trends. Just last week, there were three players featured in our Top 10 who flipped over short fences after tracking down a fly ball. This particular week in May saw an inordinate amount of line drives hit back to the pitcher. The best of the bunch came from a defensive -- in every sense of the word -- stop from Sterling Sharp. The Red Wings right-hander barely got the glove up in time to stop the liner from Ronald Guzman and hit the deck after doing the limbo to get out of its way. Sharp deflected the ball to his batterymate, Chris Herrmann, who stayed with the play and threw to first for the out. This play earned the fan vote as the best in May.
Honorable mentions: June 8, San Jose’s Levi Thomas makes behind the back stop for two; April 23, Charleston’s Jack Snyder gets off the mound and makes a jump throw.
Catcher: Jake Anchia, Double-A Arkansas, May 25
While Hermann’s intuitive play could go in this spot, this play by Jake Anchia has to be vindicating for a lot of catchers who've been in a similar situation: a fast runner taking off for second on the pitch and an open-stance lefty with a long follow-through swinging over a curveball. Normally, that runner has second base all but locked up. But the Travelers backstop slung a perfect throw to the second base bag from behind the batter, Juan Centeno, to nab Ti’Quan Forbes well before he got to the bag.
Honorable mentions: May 27, New Hampshire’s Chris Bec takes a seat on the plate to ensure an out; June 14, Harrisburg’s Drew Millas makes a diving catch on a bunt and makes an off-balance throw to double up a runner at second.
First baseman: Drew Lugbauer, Double-A Mississippi, May 13
Some of the best plays by first basemen come in the form of picked throws in the dirt from infielders that have become so routine that it’s easy to forget how difficult that actually is. So, with apologies to those sure-handed first basemen, Drew Lugbauer gets the spot here for showing both the range and the athleticism on this Quincy McAfee grounder. The ball wasn’t exactly smoked, but it was certainly ticketed for a base hit to right. It’s been a recent requirement for infielders to have more range with the increase in shifts, and Lugbauer proved he can be comfortable outside of his regular spot.
Honorable mentions: June 10, Fredericksburg’s Branden Boissiere leans into the dugout to make the catch on a pop up; May 10, Columbus’ Trenton Brooks leaps to snag a line drive.
Second baseman: Camden Duzenack, Triple-A Reno, April 9
Camden Duzenack has been all over our top plays throughout the first half at a couple different positions, but this heads-up throw early in the season sticks out as the best of the bunch. Veteran Eric Thames hit a chopper back through the middle that Reno left-hander Mack Lemieux blindly deflected to the right side of the infield. Duzenack tracked down the ball, fielded with his bare hand and fired to the plate to catch Nick Allen trying to score. This play was voted by fans as the best in the month of April, and Duzenack also homered in the game.
Honorable mentions: April 21, Peoria’s Francisco Hernandez picks throw and slaps tag during slide; June 9, El Paso’s Eguy Rosario makes an over the shoulder sliding catch on a blooper in right.
Third baseman: Cobie Fletcher-Vance, Double-A Pensacola, June 9
Like Duzenack, Cobie Fletcher-Vance has been a human highlight reel throughout the first half. In fact, he could have been on this list at both third and second with two mirroring catches on opposite lines just one week apart. But this play as a third baseman outshines his previous brilliance at second base. The Blue Wahoos gladly sacrificed a run in this game against Birmingham as Fletcher-Vance ran a long way up the third-base line and left his feet for a full-extension diving catch on a pop-up in foul territory.
Honorable mentions: April 7, Memphis’ Kramer Robertson makes a diving stop on a grounder up the line; May 1, Rome’s Justyn-Henry Malloy tracks a grounder and heaves to first from foul ground.
Shortstop: C.J. Abrams, Triple-A El Paso, June 2
C.J. Abrams was probably the best player in the Minor Leagues during his recent stint in El Paso, and of course that came with a couple insane plays in the field. This flare off the bat of Jose Rojas accidentally went against the shift with a lot of crazy spin. Abrams hustled to his right, swiped at the ball with his bare hand and slung it to first off his back foot all in one motion to get the out. Shortstops and center fielders probably produce the most attention-grabbing plays, but this one was a sight to behold.
Honorable mentions: May 31, Spokane’s Julio Carreras recovers for an incredible play on the mound; April 27, Worcester’s Jeter Downs runs down pop-up to make sliding catch.
Left fielder: Gionti Turner, Single-A Charleston, April 16
This play by Gionti Turner is just poetry in motion -- the timing, the athleticism and even the celebration make it look so much easier than it actually was. Omar Hernandez had a homer off the bat, but Turner recovered from his initial read and leaped to get the glove above the fence and take away the homer with a backhand catch. There are a lot of good options for corner outfielder plays, especially with the bullpens being in play in a lot of parks, but a good old-fashioned robbed home run always stands out.
Honorable mentions: May 15, Hudson Valley’s James Nelson hangs on to make the catch after falling over bullpen mound; April 23, Bowie’s Dylan Harris nails runner at the plate.
Center fielder: Ben DeLuzio, Triple-A Memphis, April 26
This Memphis win against Durham will be forever known as The Ben DeLuzio Game. Not only did the Cardinals prospect make this ridiculous diving catch on the warning track, but he also went deep twice and plated three runs in the victory. Miles Mastrobuoni certainly had extra bases off the bat, but DeLuzio went a long way to spring from his feet and crash into the warning track to make the diving catch.
Honorable mentions: May 17, Nashville’s Jonathan Davis takes flight on a diving catch in the gap; May 4, Frisco’s Josh Stowers runs it down on the track and crashes hard into the wall; May 27, Dayton’s Allan Cerda makes a game-saving diving catch on a sinking liner.
Right fielder: Juan Guerrero, Single-A Fresno, May 24
As previously mentioned, there were three catches last week that flipped fielders out of play – two of which were made by right fielders: Hunter Markwardt’s play for Reading and Jonah Davis flipping out for Springfield. But Juan Guerrero did it for Fresno before it was in style. And while those other two plays brought the fielder into foul territory, Guerrero took away what would have been a homer off the bat of Stockton’s Max Muncy.
Honorable mentions: May 13, Rocket City’s Bryce Teodosio makes a full-extension diving grab; June 4, Peoria’s Todd Lott leaps to make the catch on a fly ball in the corner.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.