Buster Olney’s top 10s for 2021: Ranking MLB’s best infielders

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

Fingers crossed that the 2021 MLB season will begin on time — and that we get to see some live baseball at the ballpark this year.

As we wait, Buster Olney continues his annual ranking of the 10 best players at each position heading into the coming season, based on input from industry evaluators. Wednesday it’s infielders, featuring two current free agents atop their respective positions, and what could be a historic crop of free-agent shortstops next winter. He has already ranked pitchers, and will follow with outfielders on Thursday and teams on Friday.

First basemen

It’s one of my favorite stories to tell: In the spring of 2010, a rookie outfielder named Jason Heyward was getting a ton of attention — and rightfully so — for shattering car windows far beyond the right-field fence at the Braves’ spring training facility. Heyward was big and strong and any solid contact seemed to rocket. Every March, I liked to ask Chipper Jones — who was nearing the end of his career — about position players, because of his unique understanding of hitting. And so I asked him about Heyward’s swing.

“That guy,” he said, pointing at Freddie Freeman, “is going to be a better hitter.”

He didn’t mean it as a knock on Heyward. It was more about how Freeman’s swing would play better through the years, to Jones’ eyes, with more practical uses, in fighting off tough pitches, in working through slumps.

A decade later, Freeman has finally graduated from being a perennial member of all-underrated teams to being the National League Most Valuable Player, with a really good chance of making a speech in Cooperstown. His career OPS+ is 139, and in that statistical neighborhood, you can find Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson and Duke Snider. Freeman just passed 1,500 career hits, has a .295 career average (with five seasons hitting over .300). This was the fifth time he’s finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting, and he’s won a Gold Glove, a couple of Silver Slugger Awards. And he’s the best first baseman in baseball.

Here’s the top 10:

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