Pulling apart what makes a great Major League Baseball team may be more complicated than any other sport. One dominant faction on a team cannot win a championship alone, and it takes at the very least a balance of the critical portions of a team construct to really get over the hump and into October.
With that said, it certainly does not hurt to have a surplus of talent gathered in one location on a roster. And in the spirit of spring training getting underway this week, there is no better time to take a look around the proverbial horn at the best gatherings of talent at the key portions of an MLB roster: infield, outfield, starting rotation, bullpen and lineup.
Today’s first installment looks at a position that was tough to find ways to improve this winter, so if there is an advantage within this area, it perhaps carries more weight than any other. If anything, a look at the top 10 infields in baseball shows a diverse way to go about putting together a top-flight unit around the horn.
1.) Boston Red Sox: There is some of everything here. Dustin Pedroia is the best defensive second baseman in the game and still could have a bit of electricity left in his bat. Mike Napoli swings a regularly productive hammer, while being a much better than advertised defender in his own right. Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez profile to become two of the better players at their respective positions in the game over the next two to three years. Top it off with the versatile addition of Pablo Sandoval and the bench depth that a Brock Holt and a potential Allen Craig revival could add, and this is a team that has plenty of ways to get the job done around the horn.
2.) Toronto Blue Jays: The addition of two-way threat Josh Donaldson and one of the game’s best game callers in Russell Martin takes this unit to another level. While they could be better at second base, Jose Reyes has settled in to becoming a solid overall contributor whose declining range will be aided by Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion has flown a bit under the radar in regard to top-tier first basemen.
3.) Colorado Rockies: They can do everything a game needs from just this group alone. It’s an infield with the best shortstop in the biz (Troy Tulowitzki), the defending National League batting champion (Justin Morneau) and two Gold Glove winners from a year ago to round it off (Nolan Arenado and D.J. LeMahieu). Wilin Rosario is not the best backstop, but the 60+ home runs he has connected for over the past three years plays perfectly to his role within Coors.
4.) Washington Nationals: The emergence of Anthony Rendon (who finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting), as well as another Silver Slugger-winning effort from Ian Desmond carried this group last summer. However, the chance that Ryan Zimmerman can get settled back in and resume his previous form makes this potentially a group that could easily host three All-Stars. Yunel Escobar could be the underrated addition of the year for any division championship contender, and Wilson Ramos also remains a tantalizingly good talent as well.
5.) Kansas City Royals: KC is the ultimate unit where individual contribution means less than the sum of the entire group. That is the story of the entire Royals club, but it is most evident in its infield synchronicity. Eric Hosmer is the glove, Alcides Escobar is the glove as well as the speed, Mike Moustakas is the power, Omar Infante is the glue while Salvador Perez is the mix of it all.
6.) St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina comes into the year with his seventh straight Gold Glove in tow and stands as the binding factor to the team’s pitching success as well. Matt Carpenter has led all third basemen in on-base percentage the past two years, while Jhonny Peralta hit 21 home runs in his first year in the NL. If Matt Adams and Kolten Wong can continue to develop along the path they showed flashes of last October together, this will be a devastating all-around unit.
7.) Los Angeles Dodgers: There has been a lot of misinformation about the direction this team has taken in adding Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins in place of Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon, but the duo offers a steady and experienced tandem where the team was severely vulnerable to a falloff. When joining the dependable efforts of Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe, the presence of the league’s best backup in Justin Turner, as well as the upswing in production behind the plate that Yasmani Grandal should bring, and the Dodgers could be a steadier — yet less exciting — club.
8.) Pittsburgh Pirates: The Bucs have a proven power combo on the right side of the infield in Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, who have despite their defensive limitations connected for 137 homers over the past three years in the heart of the Pirate order. Josh Harrison made an All-Star-level leap forward last season, while Jordy Mercer, Sean Rodriguez, Corey Hart and Korean free agent addition Jung-ho Kang provide a very deep and diverse set of options.
9.) Cincinnati Reds: They were the best defensive team in the Majors last year, which is a territory they have made a habit of staying in the neighborhood of. Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco took the step up to All-Star level a year ago, carrying the team while Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto struggled through their roughest years. Both are reportedly back up to speed, and if so, this will be a team that’s run production can rival its defensive prowess as well.
10.) San Francisco Giants: Another group where the sum is greater than its parts and is very effective when pulled together. With the game’s top X-factor (three World Series in five years solidifies this) in Buster Posey leading the way, they have an elite bat and signal caller in tow. He is surrounded by above-average defenders capable of putting batters on the bases as well at each position in Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and Casey McGehee. While losing the Panda will definitely hurt, this will be a better group than believed.
Just a bit outside: The Tigers and Orioles both have plenty of production potential, but many key parts (such as no less than Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters) need to prove they will be healthy and available. The Brewers have a talented group that gets a strong overall boost if Jean Segura is healthy and Jonathan Lucroy’s hamstring is ready to play. The Mariners need to get more production from Mike Zunino offensively as well as some steadier production at first base, but presence of Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager makes their group a very productive one as well.
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