3 key Spring Training takeaways for Nats

March 16th, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Spring Training was suspended, but there still was a month for the Nationals to learn more about the team for the 2020 season. Even though the start of the regular season has been pushed back, let’s take a look at three takeaways from their time in West Palm Beach.

The approach to defending World Series title
When camp opened, one of the main questions was: How are the Nationals going to repeat? No team has done it since 2000, and the list leading up to then is short. Of all teams, just the Yankees 1998-2000 (three straight), 1977-78, 1961-62, 1949-53 (five straight), 1936-39 (four straight) and 1927-28, Blue Jays (1992-93), Reds (1975-76), A's (1972-74, 1929-30, 1910-11), Giants (1921-22), Red Sox (1915-16) and Cubs (1907-08) have won consecutive World Series.

To compete for another title, the Nats adopted the mentality “compete, not repeat.” They played the role of underdog and spoiler last season, and this time around they will have a target on them as reigning champs. The Nationals came into Spring Training with the glory of late October in the rearview mirror. Sure, they will soak up the glory of the banner and ring ceremony -- they even had a second parade in West Palm Beach -- but they realize being complacent and resting on past achievements won’t help in attaining that victory again.

Cases made for 26th man
The Nationals have options when it comes to addressing the 26th man. If they want to add bench depth, Emilio Bonifácio and Andrew Stevenson made cases for themselves during Spring Training.

Bonifácio seemed to play just about everywhere in the infield and outfield. OK, so not everywhere, but the 34-year-old can be plugged in around the lineup at a moment’s notice. That’s one reason he was rarely seen just sitting at his locker in the clubhouse -- he spent his mornings working on both infield and outfield drills. And when he was around, he was providing a veteran presence that drew in his teammates. Bonifácio, who has switch-hit over his career, slashed .333/.333/.500 with a stolen base during the spring.

If the Nats choose to carry a fifth outfielder, Stevenson can be utilized in a pinch -- literally. He would give Washington a left-handed pinch-hitting option. Stevenson, 25, has appeared in 124 games for the Nationals over the past three seasons, so they are familiar with his development and have been watching his potential closely. This Spring Training, Stevenson hit .276/.400/.310.

Kieboom still developing at third
Carter Kieboom began adjusting to live game action at third base during Spring Training. The Nationals top prospect, per MLB Pipeline, had only appeared in 11 Major League games last season, all at shortstop. Kieboom, 22, pointed out how being in the mix of a game is different than field work and training routines. A learning curve was to be expected.

“There’s a game, and then there’s practice. … It’s just different reads, it’s different judgments, it’s game speed,” Kieboom said.

Kieboom worked closely with infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera, who welcomed the role of veteran mentor. Should the Nats feel Kieboom isn’t ready for the starting role, Cabrera can step in. Manager Dave Martinez also paired Kieboom with shortstop Trea Turner in games to establish chemistry and communication in the infield.

“He’s been working diligently every morning with [bench coach Tim Bogar] and [third-base coach Chip Hale] to the point where I had to come in and say, ‘Hey, can you kind of give him a day break and let him focus on just the game?’” Martinez said of Kieboom on March 7. “But he’s doing a lot better. It’s good to see.”