WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals they have a plan and a backup plan to replace Anthony Rendon at third base this season.
Plan A is for Carter Kieboom, long considered one of the best prospects of the organization, to demonstrate that it deserves work this spring and enter the season as a third base of everyday life.
Plan B is for several veterans already on the roster – Asdrúbal Cabrera is Howie Kendrick among them – to keep the fort at third base while Kieboom gets more seasoning in the minors.
There is no plan C. No major move will be made in the next six weeks to acquire a third base from outside the organization.
“We are not trying to make an exchange,” said general manager Mike Rizzo today. “It was not a priority for us in the off-season. In a sense we managed all the options we need in third base during the offseason, and I think this shows with the construction of the roster, how versatile this group is and how effective they can be. “
Once Rendon signed with the Angels for $ 245 million in early December, citizens quickly turned their attention to the third best baseman on the free agent market: Josh Donaldson. They eventually watched the former American League MVP cartel with the twins for four years and $ 92 million.
This left many speculating about Rizzo who would then turn his eyes to a trio of high-level basic names that might have been available through the trade: Kris Bryant of the Cubs, Nolan Arenado of the Rocky Mountains and Kyle Seager of the Mariners. But while they held some preliminary talks with the aforementioned clubs, the citizens never found a price they were willing to respect, not wanting to part with promising young players like Kieboom and midfielder Victor Robles.
So after signing the veteran Starlin Castro and by hanging him as an everyday second base, the Nats decided to lose the third base job that Kieboom would lose this spring. The 22 year old, a natural shortstop, has only 10 games of professional experience at third base. He will be working exclusively there this spring – he has already reported long before the other position players – and will try to prove that he is ready for the job.
“It’s not a statistical or performance thing,” said Rizzo when asked how he will evaluate Kieboom in the next six weeks. “We have to make sure he is ready to start the opening day. He will be a good player in the big league. He will be ready for us at some point. But I want to make sure he is fully prepared for the rigors of a great championship season, playing in a new position for him. “
Kieboom had a brief taste of the majors last season, summoned by Triple-A Fresno to play shorttop in late April after Trea Turner broke a finger e Wilmer Difo struggled to replace it properly. But aside from a couple of highlights, including a home race in his early career start, Kieboom seemed overwhelmed by the majors. He made only 5 for 39 with 16 plate strikeouts and was charged with four mistakes in 10 shorttop games.
In hindsight, manager Davey Martinez believes that Kieboom has taken his plate fights on the pitch with him, resulting in defensive gaffes. He believes the prospect is ready to handle this pressure better this time, partly based on how he handled last year’s struggles.
“It obviously didn’t go as it wanted,” said Martinez. “But he was very professional. He did not change his vision of the game and the way he prepared himself. He was really very good. This meant a lot not only to me, but also to Mike and even his teammates. “
A first-round pick in 2016, Kieboom has proven he has the tools to be a productive hitter, boasting an average beat of .287, a base percentage of .378 and a slowdown percentage of .469 in four minor seasons of the League. Citizens rely on what translates into production at the major league level, sooner rather than later.
“We are happy with the prospect that he is a really good player for us for a long time,” said Rizzo. “Hopefully it’s the opening day, but if not, we have other options to manage that position.”