With Spring Training ready to begin, player movement is just about done and roster comparison can begin. Today, I will begin a new series going through the division team-by-team, position-by-position to see where the strengths are on each team. My first stop is the infield. The teams listed by each position represents my order of talent.
First Base – ATL, NYM, WAS, PHI, MIA
Freddie Freeman is the youngest of the group, and likely the best. He toned down his aggressiveness in the second half last year, so his plate discipline is improving. He’s just now starting to tap the raw power, though he’s kept up a huge line drive rate, which will keep his average up. While defensive metrics don’t like him because of his poor range, his ability around the base is as good as any, making him above-average overall.
Ike Davis had a rough first half last year, but like Freeman, suffered from some poor BABIP luck. He showed his big-time power and ability to walk, and he’s an above-average fielder at all aspects of the position. Turning 26 during March, Davis should bounce back from his Valley Fever and his significant ’11 ankle injury to challenge Freddie for best 1B in the division.
Adam LaRoche was the best in the division last year, setting a career high in homers at 33, matching his age for this season. He rates just behind Freeman and Davis because he doesn’t have Freddie’s line drive ability or Davis’ raw power, along with a bit of worry about approaching his mid-30′s.
Ryan Howard narrowly escapes the basement of the division, as his monster power provides all of his value. His K rate is just south of 30%, while his walks are static around 10%. His power should rebound a bit being healthy to begin the year, but he’s already 33, so I expect him to only get back to a point just short of his ’11 level, basically LaRoche with more K’s.
Logan Morrison rounds out the division, returning to his natural position after his adventures in left field. At 25, his best years should be ahead of him, though he may be slowed by last year’s knee injury early this season. He has the best plate discipline of the five, but his power is likely the lowest, and his LD rate is also towards the bottom. If only Twitter followers mattered…
Second Base – PHI, WAS, ATL, NYM, MIA
Chase Utley is still in the argument of the Top 5 second basemen in the majors, combining his great discipline, defense, and baserunning, along with some of the fastest hands at the plate, to form a tremendous skillset. At 34, he should be in decline, but he enters this season healthy for the first time in three years, so expect a lot out of Utley this year.
Danny Espinosa has started his career with two good seasons, over 3 WAR each year. His power, defense, and penchant to get hit by pitches are equal to Utley’s, but his plate discipline is miles away. Espinosa is projected to be have a 8% walk rate and a 26% K rate, something he will have to improve to take the next step at age 26.
Dan Uggla is probably the toughest player to get a gauge on what he will do next year. His walk rate was a career high 15%, but his power disappeared and easy pop-up outs were aplenty. His defense rated well, but that does not match his past and scouting report. At 33, he is a prime candidate for a complete collapse this season, especially with his loss of contact within the strike zone.
Daniel Murphy fits the profile of an early player, not walking much but making a lot of contact. He showed average power his first couple seasons, but he’s only hit 6 HR the past two seasons. His range has been fine at the different positions he’s played in his career, but his hands and throwing accuracy is subpar, leading to a below-average rating last season.
Donovan Solano looks to be the frontrunner for the Marlins spot, though mostly out of a lack of options. He had a nice showing as a rookie, including a 2-homer game against Atlanta in September. However, he did not hit in the minors, especially lacking in power. His eleven steals last year were the most of his career, so he’s not a big speed threat. I would guess replacement level is all to expect out of him.
Shortstop – WAS, ATL, PHI, NYM, MIA
Ian Desmond just squeaks into the top spot, mainly due to his improved defense and power surge. His plate discipline is still less than desired, but he has put up high BABIPs with a low LD rate to help the OBP. The 27-year-old probably won’t hit 25 HR again, but 15-20 is reasonable. The biggest improvement is his ability to make the routine play, cutting his errors in half over the course of two years.
Andrelton Simmons should make his name be known in his first full season, especially with his tremendous defense. He excels in all facets of the position: arm strength, accuracy, and hands. The 23-year-old is an aggressive contact hitter who will be a good hitter if more line drives come around. His power took another step forward last year, but it’s still more gap power at this point.
Jimmy Rollins had a resurgent season last year, hitting 23 HR and stealing 30 bases. His high flyball rate lowers his BABIP, but he doesn’t K much and now walks a bit more. He’s the best baserunner of the group, even at 34 years old, and he still makes the plays on defense.
Ruben Tejada is a line drive machine, but his complete lack of power limits his offensive potential. His K rate is low, but not as low as someone with such little power should be. He also isn’t much of a baserunner, stealing four bases last year and rating average in taking extra bases. Defensively, he makes the routine play but doesn’t have the arm for the spectacular plays.
Adeiny Hechavarria made his debut with Toronto last year before heading to Miami in the blockbuster trade. His calling card is defense, though not quite at Simmons’ level. His offense is the worst of any player in the division, walking very little and striking out an average amount. His power is minimal and he hasn’t figured out base stealing at this point of his career.
Third Base – NYM, WAS, PHI, ATL, MIA
David Wright is the best hitter of all the players profiled in this post. After a three year jump in strikeouts, he dropped back down to a 16% rate last year, while regaining his line drive stroke. After three straight seasons of a -10 UZR, he posted a +15 figure last year, regaining some accuracy while getting to more balls.
Ryan Zimmerman is a very good second fiddle, hitting 25 homers with average plate discipline. He doesn’t hit many line drives, yet posts pretty good BABIPs. He’s not much of a runner, making the high BABIPs even more impressive. His defense was outstanding until a shoulder injury screwed up his throwing motion, something that has affected his play.
Michael Young is coming off a horrible 2012 season where his power diminished and some poor BABIP luck bit him. He’s an aggressive hitter who finds gaps, leading to a career .334 BABIP. Defense has never been a strength, as he makes routine plays fine, but has no first step, leading to horrible range numbers.
Chris Johnson and/or Juan Francisco will man third for Atlanta, as they are very similar. Neither walk much and both strike out a ton. Francisco has the most raw power of the third basemen, while Johnson hits more line drives. Francisco does not have much of a defensive sample, but should have more range than Johnson.
Placido Polanco and Chris Coghlan will battle for Miami’s hot corner. Polanco is coming off a poor season where his bat dropped off quite a bit, though his high contact ability and good defense may be valuable. Coghlan has wandered all over the field, as his bat gives him a chance to play. If he shows the high line drive rate of his rookie year, he should get most of the PAs at the position.