At the start of the baseball season, the Washington Nationals' agenda seemed to be clear: tackling the Bryce Harper situation, strengthening the bullpen, adding either a front or down starter to the rotation, and upgrading at the catcher and at the second base.
But Mike Rizzo has already cut this list. The Nationals General Manager says he feels comfortable with what the team currently has in place – a likely move by veteran Howie Kendrick and supply infanter Wilmer Difo – and that the organization is already developing prospects of potentially playing there in the future.
"We like our situation in the middle of the infield with Trea [Turner] and Howie and Difo and [Carter] Kieboom in the wings. We have [Luis] Garcia in the starting blocks, which we believe are not far away, "Rizzo said last week at the General Manager Meetings of Baseball in Carlsbad, California. We like our depth there; We really like the skills there.
"We have some players with extremely high ceilings, which we believe will perform really well, and we have several of them. So I think it's not a necessity for us or a necessity for us. It would have to be something that we thought was a good value for us. "
This does not allow for the possibility that Rizzo will seek a second baseman in the market for free agents this winter, but the team no longer sees the position as an urgent issue in the direction of 2019. Kendrick, a 35-year-old with an average of 291 career passes, missed almost the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon and will return for the final year of his contract with the Nationals. Difo, a 26-year-old who can play both shortstop and second base, has proven to be a moonlit player in everyday life, but has mostly remained in a role as a beneficiary during his two full seasons in the major league. Then there's Kieboom and Garcia, two of the nation's brightest prospects, whom Rizzo believes could easily make the transition from shortstop (their natural position) to second base.
Kieboom is 21 years old, was named National League Mini-Player of the Year in 2018, was brilliant in the Arizona Fall League in October, and should begin the season with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators before he has a chance through the system to climb. Rizzo said Wednesday that he expects Kieboom to make his major league debut sometime in 2019. Garcia is slightly behind Kieboom in terms of development. The 18-year-old spent the season in the two Class A classes and is likely to spend the entire coming season in the minors.
But everyone thought that outfielder Juan Soto would be doing at this time last year, and now he could win the National League Rookie of the Year on Monday. This does not mean that Kieboom or Garcia will have the historic success that Soto achieved at the age of 19, but it's worth noting that Rizzo is not afraid to give players a chance at an early age. So Kieboom and / or Garcia might get a second chance in the not-too-distant future, with Kendrick and Difo probably holding the job.
"We like boys who can play shortstop because we think it's easier to get out of Short," Rizzo said last week. "That's what we feel [Kieboom] I can handle the top league position but he and Garcia will both take the change to second base or third base, we think seamlessly. "
Rizzo cited both second and third bases as opportunities for Kieboom and Garcia, and made one thing clear: the Nationals have no immediate intentions to move Turner, their 25-year-old shortstop, who ended home-run highs in 2018 (19). and RBI (73) and led the NL in stolen bases (43) and appeared in all 162 regular season games. The third base is only in conversation, as Anthony Rendon is not signed after 2019. However, it is likely that he is seeking a long-term deal to secure this position for the foreseeable future.
Thus, the second base remains a short-term and long-term need for relatives, and Rizzo acknowledged that someone must postpone their positions for his plans to work.
If the relatives go for a second baseman in the free agency – although they seem much more likely to spend on a launching bowler and a catcher, the options D.J. LeMahieu, Jed Lowrie, Josh Harrison, Brian Dozier and Marwin Gonzalez. The move from Gonzalez could make a lot of sense as he plays multiple positions and could give the Nationals a left-handed option behind Ryan Zimmerman at the first base.
However, based on Rizzo's assessment of what the family members already have, it seems more likely that they are secondary and use their resources elsewhere. Kendrick offers a right-handed veteran, and the hit-and-miss Difo has given the National's energy and even some power, if they get the chance. Difo needs to clean up the mental errors on the field and on the base paths and reduce his spikes on the plate when a pair of him and Kendrick works. If it does, so much so that relatives reject the search for a multi-year solution from outside the organization, it seems that Kieboom will get the first crack when he reaches the street position.
Rizzo quickly realizes that the Nationals still regard Kieboom as a shortstop, which does not limit him as an option on the second base. Kieboom took second place in this year's Arizona Fall League and was named an All Star. He intends to work with current and former Major League Second Basemen in this off-season to refine his footwork around the pocket while making doubles. After the recent promotions of Soto, Victor Robles and starter pitcher Erick Fedde, he is the next big new addition to the team, and Kieboom's development promises the Nationals that others see the need.
"I think he will be very, very smoothly. He's an athlete, he's a baseball guy, he has an extremely high IQ, and I do not see it's a problem at all, the transition from shortstop to second base, "Rizzo said of Kieboom. "We still think he's a shortstop, we believe he's a top-notch daily shortstop, and he believes he can handle that position. But we have a damn good idea now and he will not go anywhere for a while. "
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