Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty reported that Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the General Managers’ Meetings in Carlsbad, CA on Wednesday that he did not, “... see upgrading at second as a top priority this offseason.”
“Right now,” Dougherty wrote on Twitter, “[Rizzo] is comfortable with Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo in that spot.”
In a follow-up tweet, the WaPost reporter noted that Carter Kieboom, the Nats’ top infield prospect, has played some second base in the Arizona Fall League, and plans to work out there this winter should a need arise at second base in 2019.
In the immediate aftermath of the Nationals’ decision to trade Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs last August, Rizzo told reporters it wouldn’t be fair to throw Kieboom into a position he hadn’t played as a professional, when a reporter asked if he would consider bringing him up at some point.
“Carter has never played second base in his professional career, so it would be unfair for me to throw him there at the big league level,” Rizzo explained. “He’s progressed beautifully for where he’s at.
“He’s going to be in the Arizona Fall League as one of our premier players in the Fall League, so he’s had a lot on his plate, he’s had a terrific career with us as short as it has been, but his needle is facing north and we don’t want to sidetrack that.”
Kieboom, a 2016 1st Round pick, finished his third season in the organization with 16 home runs, 31 doubles, 58 walks, 109 Ks, and a .280/.357/.444 line against in 123 games and 558 plate appearances between High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg and would seem to be a likely candidate to get a call to the majors should Kendrick struggle to return from the achilles injury that ended his 2018 campaign or if Difo struggles given regular at bats.
Kendrick, 35, put up a .303/.331/.474 line with 14 doubles, four home runs, five walks, and 29 Ks in 40 games and 160 PAs before he suffered the season-ending injury in mid-May.
Rizzo talked towards the end of the season about getting the veteran infielder/outfielder, who signed a 2-year/$7M deal with the Nats in January of 2018, back next season.
““Howie is under contract for next year, yes, we’re very, very happy to say that and he’s progressing well with the achilles injury,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.
“And we’re looking forward to having one of the great leaders we had in the clubhouse back for another season next year.”
Kendrick started 32 of his 40 games at second base before the injury, and Difo got most of the starts at second while the Nats waited for Murphy to return from offseason surgery and after Murphy was dealt to the Cubs.
Difo, 26, ended up starting 84 of his 112 games at second base, putting up a .230/.298/.350 line with 14 doubles, seven triples, and seven home runs in 456 PAs.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked in early September about what Difo brought to the lineup.
“His offense has been — he’s really staying on the ball and using the middle of the field. He’s driving the ball to left-center field, which is really nice to see,” Martinez said.
“That’s the key for him, not trying to do too much. Sometimes, as you see, if he hits a home run, he tends to get big for a little bit. We try to keep him back in the middle of the field. I think Difo’s going to be a really, really, really exciting player. He’s just got to remember to focus on the little things and stay focused and the complete game and he’s going to take off. He really is. He’s exciting to watch. I love when he plays cause he’s got a lot of energy.
“The last three weeks he’s done unbelievable, he really has, and he plays with a lot of heart, and like I said, a lot of energy.”
Martinez said the infielder was also receptive to advice and continuing to learn.
“He’s been good. He wants to learn, he really does, and he prides himself on — he wants to play every day.
“He’s kind of like [Juan] Soto in that way, he loves playing the game of baseball.”
With needs in the rotation and behind the plate, do you understand Rizzo and Co. in the front office focusing on those areas and sticking with what they have at second base in Kendrick, Difo, and Kieboom? Or do you think they should be trying to upgrade the spot?