Kieboom at 3B? 'He'll get every opportunity'

Strasburg takes mound, makes his first throws

February 17th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Nationals believe their 2020 starting third baseman is already in the organization, and they won’t need to look outside to fill the role.

“We’re not looking to make a trade,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said on Friday at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. “It’s nothing that has been a priority to us in the offseason.”

The Nats have to fill the vacancy on the hot corner left by Anthony Rendon, who signed with the Angels this winter. Following Rendon’s departure, the Nationals were linked this winter to Josh Donaldson (who signed with the Twins) in free agency and Kris Bryant of the Cubs in trade buzz.

Washington has yet to officially name its starter at the position, but Rizzo reiterated , its No. 1 prospect in 2020 (per MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list), will have the opportunity to claim it, noting Kieboom’s high baseball IQ. “We feel good about the prospects of [Kieboom] being a really good player for us for a really long time,” Rizzo said.

Time is a factor, though. If the Nationals do not think the 22-year-old, who played all 11 of his Major League games last season at shortstop, can adjust to third by Opening Day on March 26, they have veterans Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Howie Kendrick on the roster to step in while he develops.

“Carter obviously is a guy we are hoping takes the reins and runs with it,” Rizzo said. “He’ll get every opportunity to make the club and to be our everyday guy. But we’ve got a lot of contingency plans if that doesn’t work out. We have some really professional players who know how to play the position. And I like our versatility. We’ve got several guys who can play in that spot, and we feel really good about all those options.”

There isn’t a clear-cut Rendon 2.0 on the Nationals roster. But the team doesn’t think replacing the contributions of the All-Star, who in 2019 led Washington in hits, RBIs and runs, and tied for its lead in home runs, necessarily has to come by way of the same position. In fact, Nationals manager Dave Martinez sees a pitcher as the key to his new approach.

“The way I combat [Rendon leaving] is, we got back,” Martinez said. “I talk about getting another edge, and this year for me, it’s run prevention -- [we’re] really focused on run prevention. We had a big meeting today about positioning, and we’re going to talk a lot about shifting, all different kinds of things like that. They both got unbelievable contracts -- I’m happy for both of them. I’m glad we got one of them back.”

Last season, Strasburg ranked first among all National League pitchers in wins (18), second in bWAR (6.3) and 10th in ERA (3.32), and he went 5-0 in the playoffs. He signed a record-setting seven-year, $245 million contract in December to secure his part in Washington’s long-term future. The 31-year-old threw off the mound on Friday to begin his 11th Major League season.

“You just kind of work on fastball command, changeups, mix in [the] two-seamer,” Strasburg said. “Curveball is normally the last pitch I start throwing in bullpen [sessions]. It was OK today. But again, that's all kind of normal. You come to expect it once you get into Spring Training, where it's like you get excited and stuff and you get a little amped up to be out there competing and then you have to kind of get comfortable in that gear.” 

Whether it’s from an up-and-coming infield prospect or a World Series Most Valuable Player Award-winning pitcher, the Nationals are confident they can tap into the versatility of their resources within their own system to address third base.