Change is constant in baseball, and nobody needs to look further than third base in the National League East to know that.
Anthony Rendon is in Anaheim. Josh Donaldson is in Minnesota. Todd Frazier is in Texas. Maikel Franco is in Kansas City. New players will man those positions for the Nationals, Braves, Mets and Phillies, respectively, in 2020. Fortunately for most of those teams, first base is settled.
Here is a look at each club’s corner-infield situation heading into Spring Training.
Division’s best: Mets
At first base, Pete Alonso looks to back up his 53-homer NL Rookie of the Year Award-winning campaign with a strong sophomore season. The Mets are set there for years to come. At third, Jeff McNeil appears to be the primary option, though the Mets may also use him at second or in the outfield. Assuming McNeil plays mostly third, he and Alonso will form one of the game’s top young corner-infield duos.
The backup situation is where things get interesting. The primary sub at first base is Dominic Smith, whose best path to playing time is probably in the outfield. Likewise for J.D. Davis at third. And while Jed Lowrie can also play third, there’s no telling what he might produce after missing nearly all of last season to injuries on his left side and both legs. On the farm, two of the Mets’ top prospects -- Brett Baty (No. 2) and Mark Vientos (No. 6) -- are third basemen, but both are years away from making a big league impact.
The rest (in alphabetical order)
Now that Donaldson has chosen the Twins, it appears Johan Camargo will team with four-time NL All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman to serve as Atlanta’s corner infielders. Camargo and Freeman are not going to combine to match the homer total produced by Donaldson and Freeman last year, but Camargo is a plus defender who showed offensive pop when he posted an .821 OPS after becoming the Braves’ primary third baseman in May 2018.
The Braves have significant power potential in Austin Riley, who could get the job if he shows he’s back to where he was when he hit 14 homers through his first 42 games (161 at-bats) last year. Charlie Culberson can play both corner-infield spots, and Nick Markakis could play first base when necessary.
Who plays the hot corner will be one of the hot topics at Marlins camp, but who’s on first is pretty much a given. Miami claimed Jesús Aguilar off waivers from the Rays to stabilize first base and add power. The Marlins hope he recaptures his NL All-Star form from 2018, when he belted 35 homers for the Brewers.
At third base, Jonathan Villar -- acquired in a trade from the Orioles -- will get a look. Brian Anderson will, too. Villar and Anderson will be in the starting lineup somewhere, but what isn’t clear is where they will play. Villar is a candidate to play second base, but that will only happen if Isan Díaz doesn’t appear to be the answer by Opening Day. If VIllar plays third, Anderson will move to right field.
Free-agent decisions by Rendon and Donaldson have made third base the offseason's biggest question mark, and while it has gained clarity in recent weeks, there are still a few uncertainties. Here is what we know: Eric Thames will get the lion’s share of reps at first base, while Asdrúbal Cabrera’s utility role will take him all over the infield, but primarily as the backup at third base.
So what’s left to be determined? The Nationals are confident that top prospect Carter Kieboom will be an everyday Major Leaguer soon enough, but the natural middle infielder needs to prove that he can play third at the highest level. Thames could use a platoon mate outside of Howie Kendrick, and while a Ryan Zimmerman reunion seems inevitable, it hasn’t happened yet.
Rhys Hoskins will play nearly every day at first base. He hopes to bounce back from a rough second half in 2019, but he is somebody with NL All-Star and Most Valuable Player Award potential. The big question for the Phillies is third base. Will it be Scott Kingery or Jean Segura? Phils manager Joe Girardi said that will be decided this spring. The early bet is that Kingery will play there because he has in the past, while Segura has never played at the hot corner before. Segura could open as the everyday second baseman instead.
Jay Bruce and J.T. Realmuto can play first base, if needed. If Segura winds up at third, Kingery can also play there. Additionally, the Phillies are bringing Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes into camp as non-roster invitees for utility-infield roles. The most intriguing name, however, is top prospect Alec Bohm. If he plays well at the beginning of the season and Kingery or Segura struggle at either position, Bohm could push for a promotion.