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Carter Kieboom’s early defensive struggles at third base aren’t a major concern--yet

Carter Kieboom’s early defensive struggles at third base aren’t a major concern--yet

Carter Kieboom is getting his chance.

The 22-year-old infield prospect is competing for the Nationals’ starting job at third base this spring following the departure of Anthony Rendon in free agency. A natural shortstop, Kieboom has started just nine games at third in his professional career but is shifting across the infield because that’s where the Nationals need him.

So far, the early returns have been—well, not great. On Sunday, Kieboom dropped a line drive off the bat of Miami Marlins slugger Jesús Aguilar then sailed the throw over the head off first baseman Eric Thames for his first error of the spring. He picked up his second miscue against the New York Yankees on Tuesday, when he charged a groundball and missed his target while throwing on the run.

The plays aren’t pretty, but that’s what spring training is for.

Competitions are held, young players get their shot, everyone has something they’re working to improve. Kieboom is trying to earn a job at a position he hasn’t played regularly since he was a kid. Mistakes shouldn’t be reasons for alarm, they should be expected.

That being said, Kieboom will only be granted the it’s-still-early grace period for so long. Opening Day is less than a month away, meaning manager Davey Martinez is going to have to make a decision in the next few weeks about what he’s going to do with Kieboom.

If these errors continue, then he won’t be forced into playing Kieboom in the majors. The Nationals have a backup plan in Asdrúbal Cabrera ready to assume the position should Kieboom need more time in the minors to work at the position. Washington is already faced with few clear opportunities for Howie Kendrick to get at-bats, so sending Kieboom down makes it easier for him to make regular starts.

But for now, there’s no reason to panic over Kieboom’s first few errors. As NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes pointed out on the Nationals Talk podcast, the Nationals’ spring training leader in errors was none other than Victor Robles (he had three). You know, the Victor Robles who was a Gold Glove finalist in center field?

Kieboom is getting his chance. It’s just a question of how many the Nationals are going to give him.

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Reports: MLB owners approve deal on coronavirus-induced measures for 2020 season

Reports: MLB owners approve deal on coronavirus-induced measures for 2020 season

Major League Baseball’s team owners have reportedly voted to approve a labor agreement between the league and its players union that implements a series of measures designed to help baseball weather the coronavirus outbreak.

Several changes were reported Thursday evening before the owners ratified the agreement.

Among them were a transaction freeze, the assurance that players’ service time clocks would be unaffected by any suspension or cancellation of the season, a reduction in the number of rounds in the next two amateur drafts, a potential delay to the international signing period and the adjustment of arbitration rules to avoid penalizing players for lower counting stats during a shortened season.

More details emerged Friday as reporters collected information surrounding the deal.

- According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the 2020 season will not begin until three major thresholds are met: 1) The bans on mass gatherings in states with MLB clubs are lifted, unless MLB decides to host games at neutral sites or without fans instead. 2) There are no travel restrictions. 3) Health experts deem it safe for both teams and fans to attend games.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that signing bonuses for players drafted over the next two years will not increase as was originally outlined in the current collective bargaining agreement. It’s a decision that agent Scott Boras has called “unconscionable.”

- Passan also added that MLB would consider running a combine for amateur players ahead of the next two drafts and that drug-related suspensions will be still served in 2020—but if the season is cancelled, then those suspensions would be waived.

- While not clear if part of the agreement itself, The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported that the commissioner’s office has “an understanding with all 30 teams” that their non-player employees would be paid through April 30. A decision has not been made as to what will happen after that.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has stated that it’s unlikely MLB will be able to play a full 162-game season, but that both the league and its players hope to play as many games as possible—with ideas like scheduled double-headers and fewer off days on the table.

No firm date was given as to when MLB hopes to begin its season.

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Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña are earning comparisons to MLB greats. What can we expect in Year Three?

Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña are earning comparisons to MLB greats. What can we expect in Year Three?

Juan Soto ventured into enemy territory last summer when his friend and contemporary Ronald Acuña emerged from the visitor’s dugout at Nationals Park and began to chirp at him.

The pair hit it off when together for the MLB All-Stars in Japan during the 2018 offseason. When they exist as rivals -- at least by the standard of being in the same division -- they still joke, hug and admire. Any comparison of the two will not be centered on vitriol. They’re having too much fun hammering baseballs in their early 20s.

Should the season restart, Soto and Acuña will start their third year in the National League East. It won’t be a full season. We already know that because of the current hiatus, but it may be enough to have another reputable look at next steps for each. And where they already are is comparable with any young duo in the history of the game.

Here are the totals from their first two years in the league:

Acuña: 67 home runs, 130 OPS-plus, 9.9 WAR.

Soto: 56 home runs, 140 OPS-plus, 7.4 WAR.

Acuña is 22 years old. He has a Rookie of the Year Award and fifth-place MVP finish on his ledger.

Soto is 21 years old. He finished second to Acuña in Rookie of the Year voting in 2018. He finished ninth in MVP voting last year.

Their mutual beginnings are so potent, a recent pairing to compare them to is Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

Sounds ambitious. If not flatly hyperbolic. And, when it comes to Trout, it is.

He compiled 19.4 bWAR in his first two full seasons at age 20 and 21. That’s more than Acuña and Soto combined. Trout was intertwined in a who-is-the-best debate with Harper at that point. That discussion is long over.

Harper’s 8.9 bWAR the first two seasons (age 19 and 20, respectively) falls right in line with Acuña and Soto. He was essentially the average of the pair.

Let’s dial back to other young stars.

Mickey Mantle finished with 12.2 bWar across 1952 and 1953, when he was 20 and 21 years old, respectively. Willie Mays pulled together 14.4 bWar in 1951 and 1954 combined. Mays was 20 years old in his first full season. His 21-year-old season was abbreviated, and 22-year-old season non-existent because of military service. Hank Aaron compiled 7.6 bWAR in his first two years when playing in his age-20 and age-21 seasons for the Milwaukee Braves. And, just as a head-shaking aside, it’s always fun to point out Mays was a 24-time All-Star and Aaron a 25-time All-Star. Decent efforts on their part.

So, what came in Year 3 for everyone listed above?

Trout was named MVP after a 7.7 WAR season at age 22. Harper was hurt, then put together his best year, his MVP season in 2015 when 22 years old.

Mantle had a strong 6.9-WAR season when he was 22 years old.

Mays, then 24, went crazy his third full season in the majors: 51 homers, 13 triples, a 1.059 OPS, .659 slugging percentage, 79 walks and 60 strikeouts. Put it another way: Mays had more combined homers and triples than strikeouts in 1955 when he was 24 years old. And yet, he finished fourth -- fourth! -- in 1955 MVP balloting behind Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Ernie Banks.

Aaron finished with a .923 OPS and 7.2 WAR in year three.

Soto and Acuña will be hard-pressed to reach similar WAR totals in a shortened season. However, they still have another decade for future comparisons and to keep chasing the ghosts of the greats.

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