Back in January, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters that he was comfortable with the Washington Nationals’ options at third base following the departure of Anthony Rendon (who signed a 7-year/$245M free agent deal with the Los Angeles Angels) and rumored pursuit of free agent and trade options like Josh Donaldson, Kris Bryant, and Nolan Arenado.
“We think we’re going to be solid at third base,” Rizzo explained. “All of our options can play it very well.”
Chief among the options, Rizzo said, is the top prospect in the organization, Carter Kieboom, 22, who struggled in a brief taste of major league action last season, going 5 for 43 (.128/.209/.282) with two home runs, four walks, and 16 Ks in 11 games and 43 plate appearances his first time up in the majors last summer, making four errors in just ten games in the field before he was sent back down to the Nationals’ top affiliate.
The 2016 1st Round pick (taken 28th overall that year), put up a .303/.409/.493 line, 24 doubles, three triples, and 16 home runs in 109 games and 494 PAs at Triple-A Fresno, but he hasn’t done it at the big league level yet, and he hasn’t played much third base, with just 10 games total at third in his four professional seasons.
“Kieboom is unproven there at the big league level,” Rizzo said of the relative lack of reps at third base, “but he’s a competent shortstop and we feel comfortable from what we’ve seen in the minor leagues at third and at second with him, and of course [Starlin] Castro can do them both and [Asdrúbal] Cabrera can play everywhere, so we feel good about it. We mix Howie [Kendrick] in the mix somewhere, second, third, first, and we feel good about where we’re at.”
Manager Davey Martinez told Chuck Todd in a Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio Town Hall last month that Kieboom would get a shot to earn the starting spot at third base.
“He’s going to get a shot,” Martinez said. “He’s going to play third base in Spring Training.
“I’m looking forward to watching him play over there every day. I believe he’s got a bright future. I’ve said that before. He’s matured a lot.”
Looking back on the issues the infielder had when he came up to the Nationals last April, Martinez said it was a good lesson on what it takes to compete at the highest level.
“Things happen quickly up here and the game gets really fast,” Martinez explained, “and I think he understands what happened. With that being said, he went back down and he worked diligently, and he’s a good hitter, as we all know, and he’s going to work with [Tim Bogar] and hopefully we’re going to get him ready.”
And by “ready”, he did clarify that he meant ready to play third base in the majors.
“I did all the due diligence on Starlin Castro,” Martinez said, “and he’s actually a really good second baseman, and I’d like to keep him at second, so for me that would put Cabrera and Carter at third base.”
On the second day in West Palm Beach, FL this week, Martinez said that the way Kieboom reacted to his rough run with the Nationals made an impression.
“Obviously it didn’t go the way he wanted it to go,” Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“But he was very professional. Didn’t change his outlook on the game and how he prepared himself. He was really, really good. That meant a lot to not only me, but to Mike and even his teammates.”
Rizzo, when he spoke for the first time at Spring Training on Friday, reiterated that the club is confident Kieboom or another in-house option will be at third base on Opening Day.
“We’re not looking to make a trade,” Rizzo said. “It’s nothing that has been a priority to us in the offseason. Like I said, we’ve kind of handled all the options that we need to have at third base through the offseason, and I think it shows with the roster construction, about how versatile this group is and how effective they could be.”
But ideally, Kieboom will step up this Spring and force the Nationals to ignore service time considerations and give him the job on Opening Day.
“Obviously, Carter is a guy that we’re hoping takes the reins and runs with it,” Rizzo said.
“He’ll get every opportunity to make the club and to be our everyday guy, but we’ve got a lot of contingency plans if that doesn’t work out and we’ve got some really professional players that know how to play the position and I like our versatility. We have several guys who can play in that spot, and we feel really good about all those options.”