Minor League Baseball (MiLB) named their 2017 Rawlings Gold Glove winners on Wednesday afternoon. They only name one winner per position across all of the minors, so it’s an impressive achievement to be recognized as the best for each spot. The Pittsburgh Pirates had two of the nine winners.
Ke’Bryan Hayes was named the top third baseman in the minors. He set the Florida State League record for the highest fielding percentage (.974) at third base. Back in July when Baseball America conducted a poll of the coaches and managers in each league, I noted how surprising it was that Hayes wasn’t even the best in his own league. Right before the season ended, I talked to a scout who had recently followed Bradenton for an extended time and he raved about Hayes at the hot corner. The scout has been around long enough to see Charlie Hayes play at his peak, and while he noted that the elder Hayes was a strong defensive third baseman, he said Ke’Bryan has a chance to be much better.
Edwin Espinal was named the top first baseman. It’s hard to top someone who didn’t make a single error in 991 total chances between his time at Altoona and Indianapolis. While he is a steady glove and possesses a very strong arm, I think Espinal won this more due to the fielding percentage rather than being the best fielding first baseman. He did improve his mobility this season by shedding weight in the off-season, so there were improvements in his range. I would also call this his best season defensively. Jerrick Suiter would be the best defensive first baseman for the Pirates at any level, but he played just 25 games at the position, so that wouldn’t qualify as enough time at the spot. If we picked a 2017 Gold Glove team for the farm system, Espinal would be my choice at first base.
Espinal is an interesting case now. He hit well at Indianapolis, at least in the batting average department, hitting .323 in 35 games. It was an empty average though, with a .710 OPS due to just four walks and six extra-base hits (all doubles). He becomes a minor league free agent shortly after the World Series ends. The Pirates can re-sign him anytime before then, but he could choose to wait and see if a better offer comes from somewhere else, possibly with a 40-man roster spot. Espinal plays winter ball in the Dominican, so he has a chance to still show off for teams. Being named the best defensive first baseman in all of the minors will just help his case.