Manager Davey Martinez revealed that significant bit of news today during his second video conference with reporters of this unprecedented summer camp, making it clear his plan at this moment is to pencil Kieboom’s name in at third base on opening day and to keep him there throughout this planned shortened season.
“As of right now, yeah,” Martinez said. “I anticipate in a 60-game season that he’s going to go out there and play every day.”
Third base had been the only position on the field up for grabs, with the Nationals seeking a replacement for departed star Anthony Rendon. Rather than spend big money on a free agent like Josh Donaldson or trade away top prospects to acquire established players like Kris Bryant or Kyle Seager, general manager Mike Rizzo elected to go into spring training with a deep roster of infielders both old and young.
Kieboom, the organization’s top offensive prospect, was the preferred choice to win the job, but the club was prepared to go with veterans Asdrúbal Cabrera or Howie Kendrick if needed. And after Kieboom struggled through the first half of spring training in the field, those alternate plans looked more plausible.
But after nearly four months off, club officials are hopeful Kieboom has been able to work on defensive fundamentals in a no-pressure environment. And now they appear ready to hand the position over to the 22-year-old, who played mostly shortstop in the minors, only 10 total games at third base.
“The biggest thing for him, obviously, was his defense,” Martinez said. “We feel like he’s going to hit here. When he left, (infield coaches Tim Bogar and Chip Hale) talked to him about his footwork. He really honed in on his footwork and getting his feet turned to where he was going to throw it at all times. ... I’m looking forward to getting him back out here and getting him in the group and getting him ready.”
Kieboom is slated to make his summer training on-field debut this afternoon. He’ll be working alongside some of those fellow infielders, whose roles are beginning to come into clearer focus as opening day looms in three weeks.
Ryan Zimmerman’s decision not to play this season due to the threat of COVID-19 leaves Martinez with fewer options at first base and designated hitter, but there still are several viable choices. Offseason acquisition Eric Thames figures to start at first base against right-handers, with Kendrick likely to start against lefties. Kendrick also figures to get significant opportunities to DH, along with Cabrera (and perhaps Kieboom on days the Nats want to give him a break from playing defense).
“We’ve got a lot of different options,” Martinez said. “We’re excited about getting these guys out there and playing. We’ll keep an open mind, but I think we’ll be in good shape with the guys we’ve got.”