Here's how Nats' infield picture is looking

December 5th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the Nationals look ahead to next season, one theme during Spring Training will be “competition.”

The team is evaluating its roster across the field with internal and external candidates, and spring camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., will see players contending for multiple roles.

“We’re going to have competition at several positions, if not all the positions,” general manager Mike Rizzo said on Monday at the MLB Winter Meetings. “We’re going to bring our best 26 [players] north and try to win as many games as we can.”

Looking at the infield specifically, the Nationals are set with CJ Abrams at shortstop. Beyond that, there could be opportunities at first, second and third base. The Nationals covet players who can provide power, and a lefty bat is a plus. With the Winter Meetings underway, let’s look at players on the Nats’ current roster who are candidates at those positions.

“If you play good, you’re going to play,” Rizzo said. “That’s what we want them to do.”

First base
The Nationals are looking for to split time at first base -- where he played in 2022 -- and as the designated hitter -- his role last season. Washington designated last season’s starting first baseman, Dominic Smith, for assignment in November.

“I want to see him do a little bit of both, I really do,” manager Dave Martinez said of Meneses. “I want to see him play some more first base. … He had a knee issue, so we wanted to keep him healthy. The biggest thing was to keep him on the field, keep him hitting. So hopefully this year he comes ready to go. I know he's doing a lot of agility stuff, he looks good so far.”

Meneses, 31, hit .275 last season after batting .324 in a 56-game breakout rookie campaign. He enjoys the consistent involvement of a defensive role. In addition to first base and DH, Meneses has expressed interest in playing left field.

“I know he wanted to play more of a position,” Martinez said. “I had to explain to him that DH is a position, and it's a big position because we needed him to hit. But I will look at the options, and we'll get him out there to play some first base more this year just to keep him engaged a little bit. … He can hit, though. We need him to hit.”

Second base
, 23, will compete to retain the starting second-base job. Last season, García made 112 starts at second with the Nats. He also was optioned to Triple-A in August and appeared in 25 games with Rochester before rejoining the big league team.

“My message to him was, ‘There’s no guarantees in Spring Training. You’ve got to come and fight for a job,’” Martinez said. “I think I sent the message to him when we sent him down. And it hurt me because I love the kid, but he’s got to get better. He’s going on his fourth year with us, and I know what the upside is with Luis, but we’ve got to get it out of him, and he’s got to be consistent.”

García hit .266 with a .688 OPS and nine homers last season. The Nationals tasked him with improving his agility this winter, and Martinez has been pleased with the results.

“We’ve got to get him to swing less,” Martinez said. “I don’t want to take his aggressiveness away, but he’s got to learn how to hit the ball in the strike zone.”

Third base
The Nationals will evaluate and , along with veteran , at third base in Spring Training.

Kieboom, a 2016 first-round pick by the Nats, is playing winter ball in Mexico following a return from Tommy John surgery. After appearing in 27 games on the Major League level in 2023, Kieboom is batting .277 with a .798 OPS in 100 plate appearances.

“The fact that he went and played in winter ball showed me a lot because a lot of players in his situation with his service time, they don’t want to do that,” Rizzo said. “We thought it was important for him to do it to catch up on at-bats that he missed over the last couple of years, so that impressed me. My reports from there, it’s a league where you will learn how to hit the breaking ball or you will go home. … I think that’s all positive factors for him going into Spring Training.”

Alu made an impression with his defensive versatility after debuting last season. He played second base, third base and left field for the Nats.

“I definitely see Jake pushing [García] a little bit there [at second base],” Martinez said. “I love Jake because he can do multiple things. I also like Jake at third and I like him in left field, but having Jake would be definitely a plus. He’s a guy that can hit left-handed as well.”