From New York to Miami, middle infields throughout the National League East are stacked with some of baseball’s top young talent. Most of the double-play combinations listed below are just beginning to jell, though all five NL East teams have at least one returning middle infielder. Here’s a look at each club’s situation heading into the season.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson and second baseman Ozzie Albies are preparing to begin a third consecutive season together as the Braves’ double-play combination. Albies has established himself as one of the game’s top young players, producing some of the best offensive statistics ever recorded by a switch-hitter aged 22 or younger. Despite missing five weeks with a right heel injury, Swanson hit a career-high 17 homers last year and showed the potential to be an offensive asset.
The Braves will need to acquire a backup shortstop before the start of the season. Their farm system is thin at the middle-infield positions. Braden Shewmake, who was taken in the first round of last year’s MLB Draft out of Texas A&M, is the only middle infielder who ranks among the Braves’ top 20 prospects per MLB Pipeline.
The rest (in alphabetical order)
When the Marlins signed Miguel Rojas to a two-year, $10.25 million contract last September, the organization made it clear he would man shortstop at least through 2020. Rojas has since become a team leader and one of the Marlins’ more productive players, batting .284/.331/.710 with five home runs, 46 RBIs and 12 Defensive Runs Saved.
The question heading into Spring Training is the identity of Rojas’ double-play partner. The Marlins hope it will be Isan Díaz a 23-year-old who struggled in his first MLB stint last August after belting 26 home runs at Triple-A New Orleans. If Díaz shows he isn’t completely ready, Jonathan Villar, acquired from the Orioles, would likely play second instead of third base and outfield. The other middle infielder to keep an eye on is No. 4 prospect Jazz Chisholm, who may be big league ready at some point in 2020.
The Mets have little choice but to hope second baseman Robinson Canó, whom they acquired in December 2018 as part of a seven-player megadeal, can return to health and form in 2020. Canó had multiple leg injuries last season, which prevented him from establishing much momentum. Now 37, he is three years removed from his last productive season. If Canó falters, the Mets can shift Jeff McNeil or Jed Lowrie to second base, but neither is an ideal solution. McNeil is needed elsewhere on the diamond, while Lowrie has given no indications that he is healthy.
The Mets are in better shape at shortstop, where Amed Rosario appears poised for a breakout season at age 24. Most of their Minor League depth is also at that position, including Nos. 1 and 3 prospects Ronny Mauricio and Andrés Giménez. Once again, Luis Guillorme is the leading candidate to back up Canó and Rosario in the middle infield.
One up-the-middle spot is locked down in Washington, with Trea Turner -- back to 10 fully healthy fingers and fresh off arguably his best offensive season -- ready to serve as the Nationals’ shortstop for years to come. His double-play partner will likely be a rotating cast of veterans: Howie Kendrick, Starlin Castro and Asdrúbal Cabrera, who will shift around the infield to stagger their days off.
But the most tantalizing option to pair with Turner may be top prospect Carter Kieboom. Those two could make a one-two punch of five-tool players right in the middle of the infield, depending how the organization decides to deploy Kieboom at the end of Spring Training. It’s not even certain he will be on the Opening Day roster; if he is, it could be at third base.
The Phillies upgraded their middle infield in December when they signed shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year contract. They are banking on him returning to form after struggling last season following his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Jean Segura or Scott Kingery will join Gregorius at second base, with the other manning third. A case can be made for either player at either position. Segura had his best season as a second baseman with Arizona in 2016 (.867 OPS, 122 OPS+) and has never played third base. Kingery’s best defensive position is second, but he has proven he can handle third. Regardless, the Phillies’ middle infield should be better than last year when Segura (90 OPS+) and former second baseman César Hernández (91 OPS+) both struggled.