Lyle Spencer

Ranking baseball's 10 premier infields

Ranking baseball's 10 premier infields

Who's on first? The classic Abbott and Costello routine is being played out with serious intensity in the Astros' camp, with no fewer than six candidates competing for the job. The presence of stellar middle infielders Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve can't quite lift Houston to the top of the infield charts.

The best infields in the Major Leagues are found in San Francisco and Chicago. Ultimately, zone ratings and Wins Above Replacement can shed light, but it comes down to a matter of taste: the Giants' consistent success vs. the thrilling upside of the Cubs.

Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Matt Duffy celebrated a World Series championship together in 2014. Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kris Bryant are hoping new teammate Ben Zobrist can show the route to the parade in Chitown.

Local partisanships aside, the Cubs are the feel-good story heading into the 2016 season. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon brilliantly gather and manage talent, and it's flowing everywhere you look.

Until Cubs Nation roars in October, however, the three-times-in-six-years champions get the respectful nod here as the game's premier infield.

1. Giants
Scouted, drafted and signed by John Barr, a behind-the-scenes architect of the Giants' rousing success, the Homegrown Four formed a unit without equal in 2015. Using WAR figures, San Francisco prevailed, 17.4 to 17.3, over the Cubs, factoring in Zobrist's performance for Oakland and Kansas City.

The Giants led the Majors in infield runs saved with 44, 12 more than the Cubs. San Francisco's left side was unmatched. Crawford had a 5.6 WAR in a breakout season in which he won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. The slender Duffy was a revelation at third, his 4.9 WAR superbly filling the Pablo Sandoval void.

Belt (3.0) and Panik (2.8) delivered handsomely as well in a unit that averages 26 years old. There also was this Buster Posey fellow spending time at first base. Leaving the catching tools in the dugout, Posey crushes. Add his WAR while playing first and the Giants go to another level: 18.3.

2. Cubs
Epstein wouldn't trade his trio of Rizzo, Russell and Bryant -- average age 23.7 -- for any in the sport. They combined for 15.4 WAR. Rizzo is the team leader, a National League MVP Award candidate. Russell is an acrobat, and Bryant looks like a young Mike Schmidt.

Into this unit, replacing new Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro, arrives Zobrist with all that veteran wisdom that helped drive the Royals to last year's crown. projects this group surpassing all infields in 2016, including the Giants, with a 15.9 collective WAR.

Russell turns a double play

3. Blue Jays
A return to prime-time form by Troy Tulowitzki could raise Toronto to the head of the class. The shortstop's new buddy, superstar third baseman Josh Donaldson, is the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner -- and he's not the kind of guy to give anything up without a fight.

The Jays will get power at first, from Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello or Justin Smoak, and athleticism at second from Devon Travis and Ryan Goins. The FanGraphs projection of 12.2 WAR seems low.

4. D-backs
The game's best defender at first and a hitter with few peers, Paul Goldschmidt (8.8 WAR) alone makes this unit formidable. Nick Ahmed trailed only Andrelton Simmons and Crawford at shortstop in runs saved with 19, Arizona finishing second overall with 36. Chris Owings saved five runs at second and Jake Lamb seven at third. Jean Segura brings speed and athleticism to the unit.

5. Orioles
Chris Davis and Manny Machado form a power combo at the corners matched only by Rizzo and Bryant. Their combined WAR last year was 12.2, with Machado (7.0) right behind Donaldson (8.8). The key is a return to top form by shortstop J.J. Hardy after shoulder issues -- and improved defense from power-hitting Jonathan Schoop at second.

Machado's great diving stop

6. Astros
Correa is poised to emerge as an all-around performer on the level of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Altuve is pure dynamite, and Luis Valbuena packs power at third. Production from the mystery man at first will determine how high this infield can fly.

7. Rangers
Texas is oil-rich in infield talent. Any unit anchored by the great Adrian Beltre has to be good. This one -- including Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus -- can be great.

Beltre smacks a three-run homer

8. Tigers
Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler are a mash unit on the right side, and shortstop Jose Iglesias can take your breath away. A solid season by Nick Castellanos at third can lift the improved Tigers in a volatile AL Central.

9. Royals
The numbers don't always glow, but Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante elevate when it counts. "Never underestimate the heart of a champion." Rudy Tomjanovich put it best.

10. Indians
Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe, bringing thunder and leadership to the corners, were wise acquisitions. Uribe will be a mentor for sensational shortstop Francisco Lindor. Jason Kipnis is rock solid at second.

Best of the rest: The Dodgers will climb as Corey Seager soars. The Rockies' Nolan Arenado joins Simmons as the game's best infield defenders. The Marlins have gold up the middle with Dee Gordon and Adeiny Hechavarria. The Mariners have two of the best at their positions in Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.