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3 predictions as Nationals begin title defense

@jessicacamerato
February 15, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The biggest question facing the Nationals this season is, will they repeat their World Series title? But before that can be answered, there are plenty of factors that will go into defending it. As pitchers and catchers participate in their first workout Thursday, here are

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The biggest question facing the Nationals this season is, will they repeat their World Series title? But before that can be answered, there are plenty of factors that will go into defending it. As pitchers and catchers participate in their first workout Thursday, here are three Spring Training predictions that could impact the Nats’ 2020 season.

1. Turner will stand out
We all remember what Trea Turner's right index finger looked like after the World Series, right? He broke it in early April, returned six weeks later and grinded through the end of October. Turner underwent surgery in mid-November, and commemorated it with an Instagram post captioned, “Only took 7 months to get this finger fixed but now my ring will fit better!” Despite the injury, he still slashed .298/.353/.497 with 19 home runs and a team-high 35 stolen bases. A Turner with 10 healthy fingers could do even more damage.

“I think when I was able to back the ball up and be a little more consistent there, I think it kind of took off for me,” Turner said on Wednesday during an interview with MLB Network. “And hopefully I can manipulate the barrel a little bit better, but also continue to do the things I did last year because I was pretty happy with how that went.”

2. Kieboom will get the job
The starting third-base job is up for grabs, and the Nationals could go in a few different directions. Short of a trade, the team could name a 22-year-old prospect the starter, or on the flip side, choose a veteran. Prediction: Washington gives the nod to Carter Kieboom over Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro or Howie Kendrick.

Sure, Kieboom (the Nats’ No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline) doesn’t have as much experience at third. He appeared in 11 Major League games last season, all at shortstop, whereas Cabrera has played 1,283 2/3 innings, Castro logged 366 2/3 (all in 2019 with Miami) and Kendrick manned 231 1/3 at third over their careers. But Kieboom has had the offseason to prepare to shift positions, and he will come into Spring Training showing he is big league-ready. His timing will be good too, as the Nationals have a gap to fill in the infield.

3. Soto won’t look like that 20-year-old anymore
Juan Soto turned heads last year when he broke into a home run barrage during the postseason, noted just as much for his age as his power -- 20? He did that at just 20 years old? Less than a week after he turned 21 on Oct. 25, he added World Series champion to his short but impressive Major League resume. Three months later, the left fielder heads into Spring Training no longer an emerging player, but rather one of the key players to watch on the Nationals -- and around baseball.

Soto is one of baseball’s "30-and-under players on the right track," according to MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, highlighted by the fact that only seven players in the history of the game have hit better than him through age 21: Mike Trout, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott and Mickey Mantle. The Nats will be looking for offensive contributors after the departure of Anthony Rendon, and Soto could step into that role.

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.