Spring Training is right around the corner, and it’s time for my first Nationals Inbox. Thank you to all of you who sent in your questions on Twitter (there were a lot!). Don’t see your question in here? It still could be addressed in future articles. Here are some key topics as the team prepares to report to West Palm Beach, Fla.
How are the Nats going to replace Anthony Rendon’s production?
There isn’t a plug-and-play solution to substitute one player’s production for another, but this season will be a huge opportunity for Juan Soto to step into an even bigger role. He gave a glimpse into his long-term potential during last year’s championship run, including homers in back-to-back World Series games. Soto wrapped up the postseason batting .277/.373/.554 with a .927 OPS, five home runs and 14 RBIs.
Perhaps more significantly, the 21-year-old proved he can deliver in clutch situations and does not shy away from the big stage. That confidence and momentum from a young player will be key as the Nationals defend their title and look to fill in the gaps from offseason departures.
What are the chances Carter Kieboom lands at third?
There were a lot of questions about third base for this Inbox, especially as trade rumors with players like Kris Bryant are buzzing. Kieboom will have the opportunity to earn that job during Spring Training -- “He’s going to get a shot,” manager Dave Martinez recently said on MLB Network Radio -- and it’ll be up to the 22-year-old to earn it.
Kieboom, the Nationals’ top prospect per MLB Pipeline, played around the infield last season in Triple-A. Let's take a look at his defensive numbers from Fresno, where he spent the majority of time at shortstop:
• 2B: .969 fielding percentage, six errors, 345 innings, 41 games
• SS: .975 fielding percentage, six errors, 508 innings, 62 games
• 3B: .875 fielding percentage, four errors, 82 innings, 10 games
After Kieboom made his Major League debut last April, he played in 11 games for the Nats with 10 appearances at shortstop, where he committed four errors over 90 innings with a .900 fielding percentage.
Adjusting to another position is a familiar challenge for Kieboom. Last spring, he did the same from shortstop to second. The Nationals’ coaching staff praised him for how quickly he took to the change. Kieboom also played third growing up, and he has had the offseason to prepare for this new task.
Who’s gonna be the fifth starter? Welcome to Nats coverage.
This is a question that doesn’t necessarily need a clear-cut answer during Spring Training. The Nationals could go with a scenario similar to 2019 with a rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez, while Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth once again vie for the fifth spot. Take a look back at how the trio fared last regular season:
• Fedde: 12 starts (21 games), 4-2, 4.50 ERA
• Ross: 9 starts (27 games), 4-4, 5.48 ERA
• Voth: 8 starts (9 games), 2-1, 3.30 ERA
What does the farm system look like this year? Who should we watch that could make the club in 2021?
Kieboom (No. 21) and infielder Luis Garcia (No. 97) represented the Nationals on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, published last week. Garcia, who will turn 20 in May, is projected to make his Major League debut in 2021. Last season, he played shortstop (93 games) and second base (38 games) in Double-A, while hitting .257/.280/.337. Garcia boosted his production to .276/.345/.382 in 20 Arizona Fall League games. He throws right-handed and bats lefty.
Welcome! I’d be interested in hearing about players who changed up personal routine, training regimen, pitch selection or batting stance this offseason.
Offseason preparation and routines play a big role in an athlete’s success and improvement. This is some of the information I’ll be diving into from West Palm Beach. Stay tuned!