5 Nats players to watch during Spring Training
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals open Spring Training this week, when pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday and hold their first workout on Thursday. Here are players to watch as the team sets out to defend its World Series title.
The search to fill the third-base vacancy left by Anthony Rendon has been headlined by Carter Kieboom. At 22 years old, the Nationals' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline will get the opportunity to shift from shortstop and earn the starting role. On the flip side, attention should be paid to Cabrera, too. Kieboom, who has played 11 Major League games (all at shortstop) is not a lock at third. The team will have to see how he adjusts to a new position and potentially a big league starting job there. The 34-year-old Cabrera, on the other hand, has done it before and would bring 1,283 2/3 innings of veteran experience to the hot corner should the club think Kieboom needs more time at Triple-A Fresno.
Soto ended his second Major League season with a bang, as the 21-year-old belted five home runs during the playoffs, including three during the World Series. What kind of production does Soto have to build upon? Last season, he tied for first on the Nationals in home runs (34), led National League left fielders with a .993 fielding percentage and ranked in the top 10 among NL players in walks (108, third), OPS (.949, sixth), runs (110, seventh), OPS+ (138, eighth), RBIs (110, ninth) and offensive bWAR (4.7, ninth). If Soto continues his momentum and growth at the plate, his production could help fill the gap from Rendon’s departure.
Nationals pitchers grinded out an additional 153 postseason innings during their title run. Strasburg pitched 36 1/3 frames in that stretch, on top of 209 during the regular season, en route to earning the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. He also ranked first in the NL in wins (18), was second in bWAR (6.3) and 10th in ERA (3.32) in the regular season. Strasburg’s performances were recognized this offseason when Washington signed him to a record-setting seven-year, $245 million contract. An adjustment happens the season after pitching so deep in October, and Strasburg -- like the rest of his rotation mates -- will have to counter the extra mileage from 2019 with preparation for ‘20 during Spring Training.
The question of where Robles will hit in the batting order could be an ongoing storyline during Spring Training. It remains to be seen how the Nats will use his speed, which led to 28 stolen bases last season. Robles took 112 at-bats second in the order, compared to a combined 398 at-bats between spots seven, eight and nine. He also hit .255/.326/.419 and recorded a .984 fielding percentage in 2019. During the World Series, his averages dropped to .160/.222/.240, but he did not commit any errors during the entire postseason. While Soto, 21, and Kieboom, 22, are noted for their ages, they aren’t the only young players worth watching -- Robles will turn 23 in May.
The Nationals added a third veteran to their late-game repertoire when they signed Harris this winter. Last season, the 35-year-old right-hander led qualified American League relievers with a 1.50 ERA for the Astros. Washington’s bullpen had the second-highest ERA (5.68) in MLB last regular season, but having options between Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson proved invaluable in its World Series run. Having Harris in the ‘pen this season with Doolittle and Hudson gives the Nationals a trio of arms with playoff experience to choose from to lock down a win.