Spring training has begun, before you know it the 2018 season will be upon us. Last week we took a look at the NL Central’s top outfields, the St. Louis Cardinals coming out on top of our rankings, now lets dip into the infields.
5.Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 WAR: 6.6
Projected infield: Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Colin Moran
Potential Starter: David Freese
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of a rebuild. Players like Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will claim roles on this infield most likely until the trade deadline hits. Two players that can play multiple positions have become a hot commodity in the MLB.
The emergence of Josh Bell at first base has given this infield a bright spot for the future. Bell’s season went under the radar to most baseball fans, clubbing 26 Homers while driving in 90RBI’s solidified his place in the middle of the Pirates order for many years come. Bell very well could be the new face of this franchise, fans love the long ball and Bell will hit a lot of the them.
Mercer, Harrison and now Bell have become proven MLB players. The biggest question facing the potential of this infield will be at third base. Jung Ho Kang was set to be the 3rd baseman of this team for many years, until a drunk driving incident in his native Korea caused a loss of his work visa. This unfortunate event opened up the chance for veteran and former World Series hero David Freese to assume the starting job. Freese put up solid numbers last season, but ultimately the Pirates are hoping Colin Moran, acquired in the Gerrit Cole deal, will take over the starting spot. Moran, 25, will have a chance to be the starter right away. Projections show that he has the power of a major league player, but can he consistently hit. The main reason the Pirates rank last in our projections is that we don’t think 2/4 of this group will even be on the team by the end of the season.
There is some young talent here but overall it’s not great.
4. Milwaukee Brewers 2017 WAR: 7.8
Projected infield: Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Oswaldo Arcia, Johnathon Villar
Potential Starter: Hernan Perez
The Milwaukee Brewers have a stacked outfield, but the infield has question marks. Third Baseman Travis Shaw and potential second baseman Hernan Perez had career years in 2017. Shaw’s power is for real, but he his lefty’s at a much more solid clip then he has in previous seasons. If Shaw can keep those splits where they are we could see a future star in the making. Perez on the other hand seemed to come out of nowhere for the Brew Crew in 2017. His 14 homers and 13 steals were a nice boost to the team in spots starts. He has to work on pitch selection though as his .289OBP is not something you want to see from a starter. My guess is he keeps his role as spot starter in 2018, leaving the door open for former hight level prospect Jonathan Villar.
Villar entered 2017 with some high expectations, moving over to 2nd base was going to help him with his defensive issue and allow him to focus on getting on base. The 2016 stolen base champ with a measly .293OBP, losing at bats the previously mentioned Perez as well as career backup Eric Sogard. Villar still stole 24 bases in 2017, that part of his game is going anywhere. But with uncertainty at the plate, expectations can’t and won’t be to high in 2018.
The final pieces of the puzzle, Korea’s Godzilla Eric Thames and Oswaldo Arcia round out an high upside infield core. Thames proved to be worth the money handed out by the Brewers, bashing 31 homers in 2017, backing it up with a respectable .359OBP, Thames will most likely platoon for the Brewers in 2018, unless he figures out how to hit lefties, still not a bad option at first base. Finally rookie Oswaldo Arcia impressed in his first full season. Arcia, could very well be the best shortstop in the MLB one day, we don’t believe that will be in 2018 but very shortly we could see a version of Francisco Lindor on the National League side.
The Brewers have a lot of potential in the infield but with multiple platoon situations coming and the uncertainty of the 2nd base position, we can’t put them higher then 4th.
3. St. Louis Cardinals 2017 WAR: 10.5
Projected Infield: Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyroko
Potential Starter: Jose Martinez
The St. Louis Cardinals made efforts this offseason to improve their offense. Reports of potential deals for Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado were being reported nearly everyday of the offseason. But by the time spring training began the only real additions to the infield were prospects, Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock. While Munoz has been a bright spot early in spring training the infield lineup seems pretty set.
Paul DeJong emerged from out of the shadows of the Cardinals prospect system taking over previous years rookie phenom Aledmys Diaz’s starting spot. DeJong, has power and a solid glove, but his pitch selection is similar to Diaz’s, he will have to work on the strikeouts to finalize his potential. While Dejong has the tools to be a star, his double play teammate Kolten Wong has slowly developed into a productive player with star potential. Wong, is coming off a steady 2017 season, nothing flashy about his numbers, .285BA to go along with .375OBP are both hug improvements for Wong. Both of these players should see a huge growth on the defensive end as well. The Cardinals have brought back 3rd base coach and “secret weapon” Jose Oquendo. Oquendo is well known for his ability to coach up players are the defensive end.
While the middle infield of the Cards is showing potential the real backbone of the organization is on the corners. Veterans Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyroko both have there strengths and their flaws. Gyroko, has found a home at 3rd base, ranking in the top 3 in defensive runs saved, with the addition of Marcell Ozuna, Gyroko will also have less pressure in the lineup, moving down to a role that suits his attributes much better. Matt Carpenter is one of the best lead-off men in baseball, that’s really his only good attribute.
The Cardinals are good on the infield, but they are much better in the outfield. Third is a fair assessment.
2. Cincinnati Reds 2017 WAR: 13.3
Projected Starters: Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza
The Cincinnati Reds were a surprising second in total war for Central infielders in 2017 and this total was added up without All-Star Zack Cozart who left for California in the offseason. The Reds have built a very strong in field heading into the 2018 season. Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez are perfect fits for the hitter friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. Both supplied power in 2017 and there is no reason to expect anything less in 2018.
The question is can Peraza filled the void of Zack Cozart. Cozart not only brought production at the plate but he also brought it with the glove. Peraza has been a utility player for most of his career, establishing a position for him in 2018 could be the push he needs to make him a consistent major leaguer. With the long time troubles of Billy Hamilton to get on base, Peraza could be thrust into the leadoff role in 2018, while his OBP doesn’t make him the clear canidate, his speed and 30 point higher BA gifts has to make him the frontrunner over Hamilton.
Finally we have Joey Votto, arguably the best first baseman in baseball. Votto has every offensive tool. He alone, propels this group to the near top of the list. Such a shame he seems to be wasting away in Cincinnati, hopefully they begin the track back to the top. A player of this ability needs to have a chance at a World Series
1. Chicago Cubs 2017 WAR: 14.4
Projected Starters: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell
Potential Starter: Ben Zobrist
The Cubs are the most talented defensive and offensive infield potentially in the league. Their ability to plug in a plus defender at any position is second to none. The Cubs may plan to use Ben Zobrist or Javy Baez and super utility men in 2018, rotating them as they see fit. The argument can be made that both players would be plus starters at multiple positions. We are going to assume they go with Baez at second base and Russell at short. Both players have limitation at the plate, but the upside far out weighs those limitations.
Russell and Baez make the best defensive middle infield in baseball, Baez took major steps on the offensive end in 2017, his 23 homers along with a .273BA showed a glimpse of his offensive potential. Baez’s continued emergencs along with a healthy Addison Russell could make the Cubs infield incomparable.
Rizzo and Bryant are MVP contenders every year. This team’s questions are on in the infield. The Cubs are the best in the Central, maybe the league.