The National League West features plenty of star power in the middle infield, with the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr., the Dodgers’ Corey Seager and the Rockies’ Trevor Story headlining the division’s talented crop of shortstops. There are fewer mainstays at second base, meaning plenty of playing time will be up for grabs this spring.
• NL West outlook by positions:
Here’s a look at the middle infield situations for each NL West club heading into Spring Training:
The known: One thing you can count on in 2021 is that shortstop Nick Ahmed once again will anchor the infield. The hard-nosed competitor never likes to take a day off. Though his defense was a tick below where it was when he won Gold Gloves in ’18 and ’19, it is still elite. After a miserable start at the plate last year, Ahmed ultimately posted offensive numbers that were in line with previous years. In fact, his OPS+ of 94 was a career best. Ahmed is a leader on and off the field.
The unknown: What happens at second base is less clear. Ketel Marte likely will see plenty of playing time in center field, though that’s always subject to change. If he does play out there, the team has a host of options for second. Josh Rojas, Josh VanMeter, Andy Young and the recently signed Asdrúbal Cabrera could all see time at second. It’s also possible that Eduardo Escobar could shift from third base. The D-backs have options, and it will be interesting to see which direction they take.
— Steve Gilbert
The known: Corey Seager reminded people what he’s capable of in 2020, smashing 15 home runs and finishing with 41 RBIs and a .943 OPS in 52 games. He was even better in the World Series, hitting .400 with two home runs en route to winning the World Series MVP Award. Heading into the season, we know Seager will get most of the opportunities at shortstop. And as he enters the last year of his current contract, Seager will be looking to capitalize.
The unknown: It remains to be seen who will end up being Seager’s double-play partner for most of the season. Chris Taylor will get a good chunk of playing time at second base, especially against left-handed pitching, but he’s also the team’s most versatile piece now that Enrique Hernández is with the Red Sox. After being a highly regarded prospect, Gavin Lux has yet to make an impact at the big league level, but the 23-year-old will get his chances against right-handed pitching. Zach McKinstry and Sheldon Neuse are other options.
— Juan Toribio
The known: As has been the case for the past decade, Brandon Crawford will reprise his role as the Giants’ starting shortstop. The 34-year-old veteran played his way out of a platoon arrangement last year and finished the season with a career-best .792 OPS, plus eight home runs, over 54 games. Crawford’s offensive resurgence has given the Giants confidence that he’ll be able to remain productive over the final year of his contract, though the club could still sit him against left-handers to create starts at shortstop for Donovan Solano or Mauricio Dubón.
The unknown: Second base could be a bit of a time-share for the Giants, as manager Gabe Kapler will have to find a way to divvy up at-bats among Solano, Wilmer Flores and newcomer Tommy La Stella, who joined the club as a free agent on a three-year, $18.75 million contract. Solano won an NL Silver Slugger Award after hitting .326 with an .828 OPS over 54 games in 2020, and La Stella is the lone lefty bat in the second-base mix. So finding playing time for Flores will be the biggest challenge, especially given the absence of the designated hitter in the NL.
— Maria Guardado
The known: Remember when the Padres — seemingly every year — had questions about what they’d do at shortstop? Last decade, they had something of a revolving door at the position. Well, those days are over. Fernando Tatis Jr. might be the best shortstop in the sport, and he figures to anchor the position for the foreseeable future.
The unknown: The Padres have a host of high-upside options, but there’s less certainty at second base. After his breakout 2020 season, Jake Cronenworth figured to slot into the Padres’ plans as their second baseman of the future. But Cronenworth struggled down the stretch last season, and San Diego landed coveted free-agent infielder Ha-Seong Kim on a four-year deal during the offseason. That mix has platoon written all over it. But Jurickson Profar and Austin Nola can also play second base. As things stand, Cronenworth is the likeliest regular starter at second, but the Padres are incredibly deep at the position.
— AJ Cassavell
The known: The Rockies insist that Trevor Story will be their shortstop in 2021, his final season before free agency, and they say publicly and privately not to put it past them to sign him to a multiyear deal. Or, at least, the Rockies plan to contend and get the last laugh at those saddling them with low expectations. After the Rockies shed Nolan Arenado’s salary in a trade with St. Louis, the rest of the baseball world sees that the Rockies could get a better haul for Story and expects a trade before the Deadline. This much is known: Story tops MLB Network’s Top 10 Shortstops Right Now.
The unknown: Long a touted prospect, Brendan Rodgers should get his first clear shot at second base, maybe even shortstop if Story is dealt. Rodgers must avoid the right shoulder injuries of the past two seasons. While Garrett Hampson was drafted as a middle infielder by trade, the departure of Kevin Pillar could make center field the spot for him. Hampson is a strong defender in center. Chris Owings, a non-roster invitee to big league camp, has intriguing middle infield skills, and he grabbed a roster spot in the same situation last year. Could Josh Fuentes, who plays third base, first base and left field, also try his hand at second? Non-roster invitee Alan Trejo, 24, doesn’t show on prospects lists, but he impressed last year in Spring Training and in Summer Camp.
— Thomas Harding