The decision to play 60 games was a hot topic the past few weeks between Major League Baseball and the players' union. The number was pretty much forced to be around 50 or 60 games because the calendar had already reached late June and the previous official schedule had teams finishing on Sept. 27.
The biggest question in the Nats lineup for 2020 was finding a replacement for star third baseman Anthony Rendon, who signed a lucrative offseason free agent deal to join the Angels. The Nats' top prospect at the position is Carter Kieboom, who played 11 games with the big league club last season as Trea Turner nursed a broken finger. Kieboom was with the Nats from April 26 to May 6 at shortstop, hitting .128 with two homers and two RBIs.
Kieboom eventually was sent back to Triple-A Fresno, where he again showed why he was rated No. 21 on the MLB.com top 100 prospects list. Kieboom, 22, excelled for the Grizzlies, slashing .303/.409/.493 with 24 doubles, three triples, 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 109 games.
Kieboom began to get into a nice groove during spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla., prior to the coronavirus shutdown. In the last few March games, Kieboom hit .286 with two doubles and two RBIs.
Sixty regular season games amounts to about 37 percent of the original schedule. One player who could greatly benefit from this mini-season is Kieboom. The 22-year-old ended up playing a total of 120 games last season, so getting his first shot at a job that is his for the taking in a small window of an abbreviated season will take the pressure off a bit. No fans in the stands allows Kieboom to just be himself.
Even more intriguing is that when this season finally begins, Kieboom's first start of the season at third base will be his first ever at that spot in a major league game. All 10 of his starts for the Nationals last season were at shortstop.
Having the chance to play in 11 games last season with the Nats, seven of those games at Nationals Park, will also help him because he has already gotten used to the feel of the park, studied the sightlines and the batter's eye. Further, starting July 1, the Nats will conduct spring training 2.0 at 1500 S. Capitol St., giving Kieboom the opportunity to get several more swings in there before the adjusted regular season finally gets underway July 23 or 24.
Nats hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich said 2019 turned into a whirlwind of a season for Kieboom. He started off hot in spring training and began the year in Fresno, then got the call to D.C. to help offset the injury to Turner and get his feet wet in big league games for the first time. In May, Kieboom was sent back down and had to adjust again.
"It was just kind of a fast year for him, how everything transpired into where he got to and then where he ended up being back," Gingrich said. "It was a good year for him offensively-wise."
Even with all that transpired, Kieboom got back to hitting when he returned to Fresno. In a 60-game season with the Nats this year, after waiting almost four months to return, Kieboom should feel much more comfortable and be able to excel in his new role. The spotlight won't have to be on him, especially with veterans like Turner, Starlin Castro, Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames around to take on that responsibility and provide veteran leadership.
If Kieboom does not acclimate at third base right out of the gates, then Castro, AsdrÃºbal Cabrera and Wilmer Difo can play the spot. Of Difo's 296 career games, 35 were at third base. Castro has played 45 games at the hot corner, and even Kendrick has 33 games there. Cabrera has played third base 165 times over the course of his 13 big league seasons.
But the Nats might not want to call upon this insurance, because the shortened season will be a good thing for a player of Kieboom's potential. Getting to play baseball in the final two months of a truncated season provides Kieboom the opportunity to display his ability in a less pressurized window.
Gingrich believes that when Kieboom goes for it, he will be successful.
"When Carter is locked in, he's on the attack," Gingrich said back in April. "He's not the same player when he is on the defensive side. He's a much better player when he is aggressive."
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