25 days to West Palm Beach and 3rd base is there for the taking!

Carter Kieboom homers; Photo by Marlene Koenig for TalkNats

Maybe this time Washington Nationals general manager really does like his roster as he said last week at the team’s Winterfest. Normally when Rizzo utters the words “I like my team” it foreshadows an impact roster move that is days away. But maybe this time he is done with impact moves. Fangraphs likes the Nats as their third best team in the NL with a team WAR of +43.2, and that only trails the Dodgers and Mets in the “Senior Circuit” so far. Current Vegas lines likes the reigning World Series champs better at 90.5 wins and second best in the NL and tied with the Braves. That is some respect in a year of greater parity in the league. 

Did you notice that Fangraphs has increased the Nats team WAR twice this week without any roster moves. The Nats went from a +42.9 WAR to +43.0 to +43.2 after manager Dave Martinez pre-recorded a Sirius/XM a radio show with Chuck Todd to air Thursday at 5 pm on MLB Network Radio. You will hear several comments about the third base position in the segment. Not to spoil what Davey spoke about, but Sam Fortier tweeted:

Dave Martinez revealed Friday the clearest picture yet of the Nats’ plans this year:

They’re betting on Carter Kieboom at 3B and…

The Sirius/XM event with Martinez had several Nats’ fans in attendance, and the feeling from one fan who contacted us was that Davey never specifically said Kieboom would be the Nats’ starter during the regular season. But Fangraphs and MLB Trade Rumors and others ran with the lede. Okay, Kieboom could be the starting third baseman if he goes en fuego at Spring Training — but what’s the rush?

Our young infielder has only ten professional games on his resumé at third base and four errors. Let it happen organically because it rarely works at forcing the issue, and the Nats have Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Wilmer Difo, and Howie Kendrick for depth.

“And I think once [Kieboom] learns how to play that position, and where to position himself, I think he’s going to be okay,” Martinez said. “Let him get used to playing third . . . and see what we got. I want him to focus on just one position. If he’s going to be on our team, he’s going to play third base.”

We have asked our service time expert, Don Henderson, for some calculations on how long the 22-year-old  would need to be in the Minors in 2020 to maximize his team control at the six years and five months. Henderson points out that Kieboom accumulated a dozen days of service time in 2019 on the Nats’ roster and “he can be called up on April 22 – a little less than 4 weeks after Opening Day to maximize his service time. This ignores Super 2 issues and assumes the Cubs win the dispute with Kris Bryant.”

If you believe in Fangraphs projections, they have Kieboom stepping up to the plate 483 times for the Nats this season, and they increased his WAR from +0.8 to to +1.6 thinking he will be the Nats primary third baseman for most of the season.

The analysts at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, and Fangraphs think the Nats top prospect could be a star. Jim Bowden at The Athletic just rated Kieboom’s hit-tool at a 55 while MLB Prospects Watch has him at a 60 hit-tool. Some have compared Kieboom to Alex Bregman, and if you get those types of numbers you’re approaching All-Star status for sure — but again, most of this talk is extremely premature.

For now, Kieboom will concentrate only at third base according to Martinez, and so far this offseason the top prospect has added 15 pounds to his frame so he can add some power as a corner infielder. Nobody expects Anthony Rendon numbers from Kieboom although the team is hoping he can be the impact player Rizzo was looking for. While in Triple-A Fresno, the infielder hit .303 for their season and an .902 OPS.

There was a reason why Rizzo avoided any trade talks that included Kieboom, and he will get his starts at third base during Spring Training with his opportunity to show he belongs on that Opening Day roster.

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