Talk Nats 2023 Seasonal Positional Preview – Third Base

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

Welcome to the 2023 Talk Nats season positional preview! Between now and Opening Day, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about a particular position, eventually covering every spot on the diamond. Below is a deep dive into the third base position. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section, and as always, Go Nats!

The Starter – Jeimer Candelario 

Jeimer Candelario signed a one-year contract with the Washington Nationals early in the offseason and will start his 2023 campaign as the team’s third basemen. The 29-year-old started his career in Chicago before being traded to Detroit. Candelario has also played 60 games at first base with a .989 fielding percentage. The veteran is a switch hitter who has constantly been able to produce numbers. I believe Canderlario will earn the cleanup spot in the lineup this spring. Candelario was an above-average hitter in Detroit and looked sharp early in his career. He ranked third with Detroit in WAR in 2020 and got himself on-base often.

The 29-year-old was a buy-low move for the Nationals with a high upside. Candelario offers positional versatility as well as defensive reliability. Although he’s inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball, he has power. He had his best season in 2021, hitting 23 home runs while slashing .278/.356/.458. 

The Nationals may move the veteran at the deadline and give Carter Kieboom another chance or possibly even Jake Alu. Kieboom is an unproven player who has had more than his fair share of injuries throughout his tenure in D.C. Nats’ general manager Mike Rizzo selected Kieboom 28th overall in the 2016 MLB draft. Shortly after, the infielder was a top-100 prospect. In 414 major league plate appearances, admittedly, Kieboom only slashed .197/.304/.285. Last season he underwent Tommy John surgery last season and missed the whole season. 

It shouldn’t be too many years until Brady House joins the Nationals in D.C. Although it probably won’t be this season, Nationals’ fans can hope House will be ready to be elevated to the MLB level next year if all goes right.

Bench option  – Ildemaro Vargas, Micheal Chavis 

The Nationals signed infielder Ildemaro Vargas last May and optioned him to Triple-A. Vargas was an intriguing signing by the Nationals as he’s versatile, and his strengths demonstrate a capability for multiple positions. He is an athletic fielder, a capable hitter for the bench, and offers speed on the basepaths. Before being signed by the Nats, Vargas played in the Cubs organization before being DFA’d. He played ten games with the Cubbies but didn’t find himself on base often, recording three hits while slashing .130/.231/.348 and producing a .579 OPS.

Vargas debuted for the Nationals on August 3 and shocked Nats fans by going four-for-four. It wasn’t long until manager Dave Martinez decided to bench third baseman Maikel Franco and put Vargas in the daily lineup. One interesting nugget about Vargas is that he has no Minor League options. The Nationals would outright release him if they determine they don’t value Vargas. The hope is Vargas can be a utility player for the Nationals this season, and if Rizzo trades a veteran infielder, Vargas could be slotted into that spot in the second half of the season.

The Nationals signed Michael Chavis during the offseason to a minor league deal. The former first-round pick was an intriguing college prospect and continued his minor success, cracking Baseball America’s Top-100 list. Chavis is a power-hitting monster who can rake, although he often strikes out. In his 309 major league plate appearances, he’s only walked 5% of the time. After spending time in the Red Sox organization, the 27-year-old was traded to the Pirates in 2021. However, it was only a short time until Pittsburgh DFA’d Chavis.

Minor Leaguers – Jake Alu, Erick Mejia, Carter Kieboom, Trey Lipscomb

Alu has been a bright spot in the Nationals farm system for a couple of years, spending time in High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Alu started the 2022 season in Double-A Harrisburg and hit .281 with a .830 OPS, smashing balls in play. He was called up to Rochester, where he hit .311 with an OPS of .890. Alu spent 56 games in Triple-A and was regularly seen in the lineup. Last season Alu led the MILB with 17 defensive runs saved and was a stud at the hot corner. The hope is Alu can get called up during the season and could be another versatile infielder.

Erick Mejia entered the MLB as an international free agent, signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2012. Mejia spent the next three seasons with the Mariners playing at the Rookie Level, Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Mejia was then traded to the Dodgers and played with their Double-A Affiliate, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. The following season he was called up to the Tulsa Drillers, another Double-A squad. After the 2017 season, the international free agent was traded again, this time to the Royals. Mejia made his major league debut at the end of the 2018 season and became a free agent the following offseason. Mejija resigned with the Royals and batted .071 in eight games during his 2020 campaign. The infielder spent 2021 with the Royals Triple-A affiliate playing 55 games while hitting .245 and 30 RBIs. After the 2022 season, the Nationals signed Mejia to a minor league deal.

Trey Lipscomb is a local Maryland kid who played baseball for the University of Tennessee and was a third round pick. He was one of the more exciting players in Spring Training.

Top Prospect – Brady House

Brady House was a former 1st round pick for the Nationals organization in 2021. House is one of many prospects the Nationals hope will contribute down the road. A top-100 prospect with some evaluators, House dealt with injuries last season that dropped his rankings and eventually shut down his season. House played shortstop in high school and Rizzo made the decision with the development group during Spring Training to permanently move him to third base. The former 11th-overall pick has arm talent and can field the ball well. He often throws in the high 90s across the diamond and limits the errors. House won’t get called up this year, but fans should expect the infielder to get a chance late next season. Can you imagine an infield with Brady House, C.J. Abrams, and Luis Garcia? That’s going to be fun.

Divisional Rankings 

  1. Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves
  2. Alec Bohm, Phillies
  3. Jean Segura, Miami
  4. Eduardo Escobar, Mets 
  5. Jeimer Candelario, Nationals

The former Diamondback, Eduardo Escobar, is fighting for the starting third-base role with the Mets. Escobar has moved around the MLB, playing for numerous teams. The Mets hoped for a productive season from the corner infielder after a strong 2021 All-Star season. Brett Baty had a terrific spring but was cut. Escobar left to represent his country in the WBC. Baty slashed  .342/.468/.447 in 20 games this spring while committing four errors at third. Before playing in the WBC, Esocar hit  .100/.182/.100 in seven games before playing in the WBC, with 0 errors. It’ll be interesting to see who the Mets pick as they start between the veteran and the youngster.

The Phillies will have established infielder Alec Bohm at the hot corner. Although Bohm was viewed as the worst infielder last season, Bohm’s bat goes unmatched in this division. The third basemen improved as the season progressed and helped the Phillies’ playoff push. Bohm batted .290, with 164 hits and 13 homers last season. This season Bohm is ranked the 15th best third basemen according to Yahoo rankings and projects to hit .272/.324/.416. With 15 home runs.

The Marlins don’t have many good position players, but Jean Segura is a strength. The veteran should add plenty of value to Miami. The former Met is moving to third base after several seasons at second. Segura is projected to hit  .274/.331/.393 this season. The position change is new, and he hasn’t practiced much at the hot corner this spring. He had 0 innings at third for Dominican Rbulic at the WBC and only had two at-bats.

Austin Riley comes in at number one in my N.L. East rankings. Riley is a stud and is by far the best third-baseman in the NL East. Projections have Riley as the sixth-best third-basemen in baseball this season and are projecting him to hit .274/.343/.512, Riley still needs work on his defense, but he has monster power and averages 97 MPH, which is in the 97th percentile.

The best-case scenario for 2023: Candelario has a very productive first half of the season, and the Nationals trade him for valuable prospects. Brady House continues to develop and ends the season at Double-A. Kieboom figures it out and steps in for Candelario after the trade deadline.

The worst-case scenario for 2023: Candelario can’t get back to his 2020 numbers, and he struggles with the Nationals.

Overall position grade: C+


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