As we continue our series for this week, we present the teams with the best collection of infielders -- first base, second, third and shortstop -- in the majors.
The Rangers' plan is to give Mitch Moreland a chance to establish himself as the first baseman in spring training, but they will also be devoted to the concept of making sure their best players will be in the lineup; if it becomes clear that Jurickson Profar -- who turns 20 next month -- is one of those guys, he'll play. Profar was shut down in winter ball because of an elbow problem, but the Rangers say he's fine now and is ready to go. The left side of the Texas infield is dynamic defensively, with MVP candidate Adrian Beltre at third and the improved Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Andrus is only 24 years old and still developing as an offensive player, and he showed in the first half that he has room to grow.
The X factor: Ian Kinsler. There was a general regression throughout almost every part of the Rangers' lineup as last season progressed, from Josh Hamilton to Michael Young, but Kinsler's decline may have been the most perplexing. At age 30, his OPS slid by 83 points from 2011 to 2012; his WAR went from 7.1 to 2.0 in the same time frame. The damage he did against fastballs dropped considerably last year. As Profar emerges, Kinsler could be asked to change positions and move to first base, as he has acknowledged, but no matter where he plays, the Rangers will need better production out of him than they got last season; when at his best, Kinsler can be an elite hitter, among infielders.
Let's get this out of the way: The Tigers' infield defense was the worst in the majors last season because of plays not made, and for a sinker-ball pitcher like Rick Porcello, the lack of range is a problem. But in the end, Detroit reached the World Series largely because of the offensive excellence of Miguel Cabrera, who had the first Triple Crown season in almost half a century, and Prince Fielder, who made a seamless transition in his first season in Detroit. Those two combined for 74 homers and 247 RBIs.
"They're the best 1-2 punch in the big leagues," an AL general manager said recently. A very underrated part of what Cabrera and Fielder provide is their devotion to playing daily: They answer the bell, every day. Over the last seven seasons, Cabrera and Fielder have missed a total of 40 games. Omar Infante seemingly put a lot of pressure on himself after joining the Tigers in a midseason trade, before settling in and playing better down in the last weeks; he should be better this year.
The X factor: Their shortstop situation. The Tigers exercised the 2013 option for Jhonny Peralta, who is steady but limited, especially on defense. But they demonstrated during the winter that they're open to a possible upgrade, and it'll be interesting to see if Peralta holds this position throughout the season, or if Detroit aggressively looks for an alternative during the year.