Continuing my pre-spring-training ranking of MLB teams, today we will be focusing on the best infields in MLB. This list primarily focuses on the best offensive infields in the league; every MLB player has at least a certain level of defensive skill, there is much more variation in player’s offensive abilities.
One notable exception here is catcher, whose main job is to successfully manage a pitching staff and stop other teams from stealing bases; a catcher’s defense is arguably more important than his offense. With this in mind, having a good offensive catcher can help boost you up this list, but having a more defensive catcher will not seriously penalize you.
I will write out each teams projected infield by last name in the following order: 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, Catcher.
For comparisons sake, here’s how ESPNs Buster Olney ranked em.
Note: It may appear that I snubbed the Angels from this list, but that is not the case. The Angels do not appear on this list only because Mark Trumbo is slated to be their DH and not their 3B this year. The Angels have a good IF, but other than Pujols most of their star power is in the OF / DH spots.
1) Rangers (Moreland, Kinsler, Andrus, Beltre, Pierzynski):
These Rangers have one heck of an infield. Adrian Beltre was arguably the hottest hitter in MLB down the stretch last year. Ian Kinsler is an elite 2B, and a 5 tool player at a traditionally weak position offensively. Elvis Andrus is a great contact hitter with remarkable speed. A.J. Pierzynski is coming off a career year, and while he probably won’t repeat his 2012 success, he is an above average offensive catcher. Mitch Moreland is not the best offensive 1B, but he is a solid hitter, and there is a possibility Lance Berkman ends up being the regular 1B if he can get back to his 2011 resurgent form. One of the top prospects in MLB, Jurickson Profar, is ready to make an impact if anyone goes down to injury or is traded. This IF is talented and deep, and the best in baseball.
2) Cardinals (Craig, Delasco, Furcal, Freese, Y. Molina):
I am a huge fan of the Cardinals offense, and it is amazing that just a year after losing Albert Pujols to free agency, this team ranks so high on this list. Allen Craig is a great hitter with prodigious power; it will be fun to see what he can do with a healthy full season as the everyday first baseman in St. Louis. Rafeal Furcal is a scrappy veteran who knows how to help a team win. David Freese is one of the best young 3B in the league, and has proven he can be a clutch hitter. Yadier Molina has developed into one of the best offensive and defensive catchers in the league. This talented and well rounded group is one of the best in MLB.
3) Tigers (Fielder, Infante, Peralta, Cabrera, Avila):
Miguel Cabrera is coming off the first Triple Crown season in 45 years, and played a surprisingly strong 3B last season. Prince Fielder is a great power and contact hitter. Together they make up the most dangerous 3-4 combo in MLB, and along with any other players would be assured a spot on this list. But the rest of the Tigers IF is nothing to scoff at. Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila are all above average hitters at their positions. Add up all this talent, and you get the number 3 IF in the league.
4) Yankees (Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Youkilis, Stewart):
Lots of people are down on the Yankees this year, although I do not see why. True, the Yankees are a year older, and they have question marks at catcher as they wait for young talent to become MLB ready. But the Yankees have All-Stars around the horn. Mark Teixeira is a switch hitting power hitter and the best defensive 1B in MLB. Robby Cano is the best offensive 2B in the game, a player in the prime of his career whose potential seems limitless. Derek Jeter is a year older and coming off an injury, but he will be ready to play. Since Jeter slumped leading up to his 3,000th hit, he has hit well over .300. This was the only prolonged slump of his career, and while there will be people saying he can’t recover from an injury at his age, Jeter will once again silence his critics. A-rod will be missed (?), but I actually like having Youkilis at 3B, he will quietly contribute on offense while posting a .400+ OBP. The Yankees are underrated going into this year, it’s nice to be the underdog for once.
5) Nationals (Laroche, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman, K. Suzuki/ Ramos):
Adam Laroche finally lived up to his potential, and the Nationals rewarded him with a 2 year $24 million dollar contract. Despite past consistency / durability issues, I expect Laroche to play up to his contract. Danny Espinosa is a young player with power and speed, although his career .239 BA leaves much to be desired. Apparently he played with a torn rotator cuff last year, perhaps his average suffered because of that. Ian Desmond emerged last year as one of the best SS in MLB. Ryan Zimmerman is a stud third baseman and the leader of this young Nationals team. Whoever ends up being their catcher, this is a top 5 IF.
6) Dodgers (A. Gonzalez, Ellis, Gordon, Ramirez, Ellis)
Although the Dodgers do not currently have Gordon starting at SS, I think sooner or later the Dodgers will move Hanley to 3B and play Dee at SS. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best hitters in MLB, and Hanley Ramirez has shown the talent to be considered amongst the best hitters in the league as well. Dee Gordon is a speed demon who could develop into a star in the years to come. Mark and A.J. Ellis are both consistent hitters who should see lots of good pitches to hit this year with the Dodgers star-studded lineup. The Dodgers have spent a lot of money to win, now it’s time to see how well that money was spent.
7) Blue Jays (Encarnacion, Izturis, Reyes, Lawrie, Arencebia)
I’m still high on the Jays, and for good reason. Edwin Encarnacion was the breakout player of the year last season, and should continue to post impressive power numbers for years to come. Brett Lawrie is a young player with exceptional speed and power, I expect him to develop greatly as a player this year, being surrounded with all that talent in Toronto. Jose Reyes will have a bounce-back year, and has the potential to be one of the most dynamic players in MLB if he stays healthy. Maicer Izturis is slated to be the starting 2B, and while he is a decent player, I would not be surprised is Emilio Bonifacio takes over as the everyday 2B once the season is underway. J.P. Arencebia provides some pop behind the plate as well; this Blue Jays team sure has one stacked lineup.
8) Phillies (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Young, Ruiz):
This group would’ve been number 1 on my list 5 years ago, but since then injuries and age have slowed this them down. Still, everybody seems poised to be healthy coming into the 2013 season, so I would not be surprised to see a resurgence of the Phillies this season. If Howard, Utley, and Rollins can stay healthy, this unit will probably perform better than 8th best in the league. This year, Michael Young takes over at 3B for the Phillies; one of the games best pure hitters and a possible 3,000 hit club candidate, Young should fit in well with the rest of the talented veterans on this club. Carlos Ruiz is one of the better offensive catchers in the game; the Phillies are a solid pick for a bounce back season after a disappointing 2012 campaign.
9) Reds (Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Hanigan):
Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in MLB. He hits for power, for average, and is always among the league leaders in OBP and OPS. Brandon Phillips is one of the best 2B in the game; his game features speed, power, and the ability to hit for contact. Zack Cozart and Brandon Frazier are not stars, but they are both solid young players who will continue to improve. When you have Votto and Phillips on your team, you don’t need much else to be considered a great IF.
10) Mets (Davis, Murphy, Tejada, Wright, Buck)
The biggest surprise on this list, and I am very happy to give the Mets some credit where it is due. The Mets ownership did the right thing and spent the big bucks on their franchise player, David Wright, and have a young talented team to build around him with. Ike David has the potential to be an Adam Dunn type offensive machine, and Wright has proven year in and year out that he is one of the premier hitters in MLB. Daniel Murphy is a solid hitter who should bat around .300 this year, as is Ruben Tejada. The Mets are probably a year or two away from being a legitimate contender, but I think they will be surprisingly successful this year.
Notable exceptions (“X-factor” player listed in parenthesis):
Orioles (Manny Machado), Rockies (Tyler Colvin), Giants (Pablo Sandoval), Royals (Eric Hosmer), Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt)