Nats' new third baseman? Their No. 1 prospect

July 4th, 2020

WASHINGTON -- Turns out, the question of who will start on the hot corner for the Nationals doesn’t have to wait until the end of Summer Camp to be answered.

“We’re definitely looking at Carter Kieboom to play third base for us,” manager Dave Martinez said on Day 2 of Summer Camp.

Asked if he anticipates Kieboom will be the full-time third baseman to open the 2020 season, Martinez gave the 22-year-old the nod.

“As of right now, yes,” Martinez said. “I just think in a 60-game season that he’s going to go out there and play every day.”

Third base was vacated when Anthony Rendon left Washington in free agency last winter and signed with the Angels. The Nationals considered moving Kieboom, their No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, over from shortstop or utilizing veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera at the position. Cabrera has played 1,283 2/3 innings with a .965 fielding percentage at third over his career.

The Nats gave Kieboom the opportunity to earn the role during Spring Training in Florida, where he was candid about the adjustments to a new position. Kieboom had only played 11 Major League games after making his debut in April 2019, and they all were at shortstop.

“There’s a game, and then there’s practice,” Kieboom said in February. “You have a hitter versus you have a coach hitting you the fungo. … The balls off the bat are different. You’re put in a situation where you’re having to make different plays than you ever have to make in practice. … It’s just different reads, it’s different judgments, it’s game speed.”

The Nationals mapped out to-dos for Kieboom during the delay. There was one facet they emphasized at the top of the list.

“The biggest thing for him obviously was his defense,” Martinez said. “One thing when we left [Spring Training], Bogie [bench coach Tim Bogar] talked to him, [third-base coach] Chip [Hale] talked to him about his footwork and really honing in on his footwork and getting his feet turned to where he’s going to throw at all times.”

Offensively, Kieboom hit .128/.209/.282 with a .491 OPS over 43 plate appearances in his debut season. During Spring Training this year, he slashed .233/.395/.300 with a .695 OPS in 38 plate appearances.

“I know he’s been working out,” Martinez said. “I know he’s hitting tons. I know he’s faced live pitching in the past. He’s trying to keep in shape the best he can, try to do some baseball activities as much as he can. I’m looking forward to getting him back out here and getting him in the group and getting him ready.”

With Kieboom anticipated at third, Cabrera is in the mix of potential designated hitters. The Nationals can pull from their roster of versatile infielders to fill the role when they aren’t playing defense on a given day.

“We’ve got [Cabrera], Howie [Kendrick], [Eric] Thames,” Martinez said. “Even if we decide to keep three catchers, we can possibly DH [Kurt] Suzuki when he’s not catching. We’ve got a lot of different options.”