If you look at it, Juan Lagares not only is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, but he's one of the best defensive players in general right now, and he's still so young. As a 26 year old in his 3rd season, Lagares should still have plenty left in the tank for many years to come.
First lets look at his defensive WAR, which is amazing and over the past two seasons since he made his debut, he had 2 of the 100 best defensive seasons in baseball history WAR wise. In his rookie year, he had a defensive WAR of 3.5 which is really good and as of right now, his defensive WAR stands at 6.8, which puts him as one of the 50 best active defensive players in baseball, in just a bit over 2 years. Only one other active player in the top 100 has done that in the same time frame, and that's Nolan Arenado who sits at 6.4.
Only 7 players in history have a career WAR of at least 30, and it's very possible that Lagares can match up to that if he keeps playing, in fact, if he can keep playing this well out in Center Field, by the time he turns 30 years old it's possible for his WAR to be close to 20, which would be enough to put him as one of the 50 best defensive players in baseball, and if he can keep it up even longer, he can further boost his chances. Sure, right now hitting and pitching are what really matters, and Lagares is still very new, but with a few more years in the bag, Lagares could easily become a topi of conversation for the Hall.
He's already gotten one gold glove, and it's only a matter of time before he wins another, so it's very possible that once another 10 to 12 years go by, he could very well have put together a solid and amazing career in the field.
When we look at Baseball Hall of Fame credentials we look at things like hits, home runs, wins, strikeouts, etc. They're easy to understand and usually give us a good idea how good a player is based on how many of each they've finished their career with. Defensive statistics have been difficult to manage as none really seem to tell the whole story behind a player. Unless you’ve watched someone play, it’s difficult to really know how good they were with the glove.
When Ozzie Smith was elected to the Hall of Fame we all knew exactly why: defense. The Wizard of Oz won Gold Gloves every season from 1980-1992. His incredible range and athleticism made him in the minds of many one of the best defensive players in MLB history.
Baseball has changed a lot since Smith's prime. Defense and stolen bases aren't as deeply appreciated. I'm wondering now if a player with similar credentials as Smith could ever make the Hall of Fame.
In all fairness to Smith, he did offer more than a glove. He finished his career with 2,460 hits and 580 stolen bases. Snatching up any ball hit his way just happened to be his best attribute and the one we remember most fondly from the highlight reels.
Someone like Yadier Molina would be a player I'd consider for Cooperstown for his defense. Few catchers have accomplished what he has and struck fear in base runners on such a consistent basis. He also managed to put together some solid seasons offensively which will certainly help his cause. However, I'm doubtful it's enough. Molina took too long to become the offensive threat he is today and it’s what a player does with a bat that seems to matter most.
Will baseball ever elect another player to the Hall of Fame for his defense? Even with Web Gems added to our vocabulary, I don't see it happening.