In many ways, pre-season coverage of baseball has lagged this year. Everything we usually discuss leading up to a brand new campaign — team previews, position rankings, as well as things like future projections — was immediately grounded to a halt back in mid-March, and now there are only two weeks before the 2020 season finally begins.
With the sport’s start date etched in stone, though in increasingly more danger every day as the current pandemic continues to spread, ESPN‘s Buster Olney has begun his annual Top-10 MLB Position Rankings, having covered first and second base thus far. In both columns, the Braves have been represented quite well.
On Thursday, Olney provided his picks for 2020’s ten-best first baseman — a position that, according to his research, has won the MVP award more than any other all-time (29 times per Elias Sports Bureau). The Braves Freddie Freeman — who’s currently battling a COVID-19 infection— highlighted Olney’s list at no. 1, pacing the likes of Pete Alonso (no. 2) and Anthony Rizzo (no. 3).
As far as I can tell, Olney’s commentary regarding Freeman’s 2019 is about as accurate as can be; the mentioning of Freeman’s torrid stretch through most of the season (he hit .306 with 38 homers through Sept. 10), flirting with his first-ever NL MVP award, and of course the only negative aspect of Freeman’s year… his hard-to-watch struggles during the Braves’ postseason (as he battled at the plate with an injured right elbow). And to conclude Olney’s excerpt on Freeman, he featured a quote from GM Alex Anthopoulos, that explains Freeman to a T:
“Though the numbers have always been great, watching him every day, I still think he’s underrated. He is such a selfless superstar who is all about winning and the organization. Beyond that, he’s incredibly durable and plays through ailments that I would guess very few if any players do.”
That’s Freddie Freeman, ladies and gentlemen. The best first baseman in Major League Baseball, though somehow still an underrated player. Hopefully, his absence is very short.
The huge strides by Ozzie
Olney’s 2020 position rankings continued on Friday with his picks for the game’s ten-best second baseman— a list that featured a 23-year-old Ozzie Albies, who put together a career-year at the plate for the Braves in 2019, managing 5.2 bWAR to go along with 24 home runs and a .294 AVG. Although, last season seemed like the Year for Second Basemen, as Albies is paced by four other players on Olney’s list (thanks to out-of-nowhere, career-years by the likes of D.J. LeMahieu and Ketel Marte). Regardless, considering the issues he had at the plate just two seasons ago, Albies has accomplished a ton quickly, and if his current trajectory continues, he’ll soon be the best in the game at the keystone.
Of course, these types of series are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Being put on these lists leading up to the season doesn’t give teams any tangible advantage. Frequently, players that aren’t on anyone’s radar are the ones who seem to show out the most in a given season.
But Olney’s current series, and the fact that several more Braves will undoubtedly be featured in future installments, shouldn’t go unappreciated. This current core of young stars is perhaps one of the most talented in franchise history, and contrary to just three or four seasons ago, the Braves are becoming notable for their talent and success. Let’s just hope it translates into a big year in 2020.
Photo: David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire