Inbox: Where do things stand in Nats' infield?

Beat reporter Jessica Camerato answers fans' questions

March 9th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Time flies in Spring Training. Weren’t pitchers and catchers just reporting? With a little more than two weeks until Opening Day for the 2020 season, let’s answer your questions about the Nationals.

The Nationals lost a proven bat when third baseman Anthony Rendon joined the Angels this offseason in free agency. His departure left a hole both in the infield and lineup. Rather than signing a free agent or dipping into the farm system to acquire an individual player to replace Rendon’s production, the Nationals have constructed a versatile group to produce by committee.

Let’s go position-by-position here. The Nats’ infield is a juxtaposition of youth and veterans on the corners. The team is evaluating , its top prospect per MLB Pipeline, at third base. There’s going to be a learning curve as the 22-year-old transitions to a new position. (Kieboom recently noted the differences between workout drills and live game speed.) To get used to the in-game feel, manager Dave Martinez is looking to pair him with Trea Turner at shortstop when possible. Outside of game action, 34-year-old is embracing the role of experienced mentor to help Kieboom. If Washington doesn’t feel Kieboom is ready for Opening Day, Cabrera could start at third.

The Nationals signed to a two-year deal this offseason, and he is in line to be the starting second baseman. Martinez is very familiar with Castro from their days together with the Cubs. He has lauded the infielder for his dedication to helping his team, including the previous two years on struggling Marlins squads. Castro proved to be dependable last season, playing in 162 games for the second time in his career.

Over on first base, the Nats have a trio of options with 34 seasons of combined Major League experience. Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman could fill the role as needed. Thames will be an intriguing offseason addition to watch. With a physique that looks like he could crush home runs all day -- “He’s huge,” Martinez said -- his ability to hit right-handed pitchers is a plus in the lineup.

With all this being said, the Nationals have put together a group of multi-positional players. They have experience playing around the infield and could be moved around in a pinch.

We just talked about the third-base situation above, but this is a good segue into Luis Garcia’s future with the Nationals. Garcia joined Kieboom as Washington’s two representatives on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list for 2020. (Kieboom is ranked 21st overall, Garcia 97th.) Let’s start by pointing out that Garcia is 19 years old. His highest level of Minor League ball to this point is Double-A, in which he slashed .257/.280/.337 with four home runs in 129 games last season. Garcia is part of the Nats’ long-term plans, just not in the “right now” and not at third base.

Spring Training has been a solid opportunity for Garcia to compete with and against big league players, as well as experience the Nationals team culture. Martinez has commented on Garcia’s physical growth over the years and his attention to detail at the plate. As Garcia continues to the develop, he will be a topic of conversation for the Nats’ future.

The Nationals enhanced the back end of their bullpen this winter by signing and adding him into the mix with and . The right-handed Harris led qualified American League relievers with a 1.50 ERA in 2019 with the Astros. Doolittle is expected to assume the closer role, with Hudson (as he demonstrated in the World Series) and Harris also able to finish out games.

The Nats are beginning to get a more comprehensive look at Doolittle and Hudson in Spring Training, as both pitchers are getting more reps in and shaking off offseason rust. Harris has been dealing with a tweaked left abdomen, and the club is erring on the side of caution for his first Grapefruit League appearance rather than rushing him out on the mound. This trio, when all cleared to play, gives Washington three arms with loads of postseason experience.