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Davey Martinez says top prospect Carter Kieboom will have chance to start at third base

Davey Martinez says top prospect Carter Kieboom will have chance to start at third base

WASHINGTON -- Carter Kieboom will be provided every chance to be Washington’s starting third baseman next season. At least according to his manager.

Davey Martinez met with a small group of reporters Friday after a “Town Hall” event at SiriusXM’s downtown studios (which airs Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. on Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio Channel). Third base was the prime topic afterward.

“He deserves a shot to make the team,” Martinez said. “We need to fill a void at third base, and we think he's appropriate. He can do the job. I wasn't at Winterfest, but the guys there said he put on about 15-20 pounds of muscle, so I'm looking forward to watching him play there.

"What I want to do, and I'm going to talk to him in the next few days, is just let him play third base and not move him all over the place and let him get used to playing third base and get him over there and see what we got.”

Washington was cornered into this gamble when Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson signed elsewhere. Asdrúbal Cabrera is the secondary option at third, Martinez said. Starlin Castro will remain at second base. Howie Kendrick could also play third base from time-to-time.

The Nationals will go from an MVP finalist and a top-3 defender at third base to a 22-year-old rookie, if Kieboom ends up the starter. He made nine starts at the position for Triple-A Fresno in 2019. Overall, he made 10 appearances at third and committed four errors. It’s a drastic shift in baseline for the defending World Series champions.

"He's young, and I talked to [infield coach Tim Bogar] about getting him out there every day early and teaching him,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing about that is positioning, and I think once he learns how to play that position, and where to position himself, I think he's going to be OK. ... I want him to focus on defense. I think he's going to hit, but I think he really needs to focus on defense in spring training and then we'll go from there.”

Mike Rizzo recently called the position a “strength” despite there being no viable evidence for that claim. Kieboom is the organization’s top prospect, so he graces everyone with the intrigue attached to his potential -- his short-lived flop in the majors last season notwithstanding. Cabrera is a 34-year-old utility player who finished 2019 with a solid year after splurging at the plate when he joined the Nationals. The former could fail because of youth, the latter because of age. In the Nationals view, a prospect could blossom and a solid veteran is available for insurance.

“Asdrúbal’s going to play, and I talked to him,” Martinez said. “He's going to play third, some second, he'll play some first. He'll pinch-hit off the bench, which is kind of nice having a switch-hitter like him. What I like is we got options.”

The main one at third, in the middle of January, is Kieboom.

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Carter Kieboom has a mentor at spring training: veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera

Carter Kieboom has a mentor at spring training: veteran Asdrúbal Cabrera

With Trea Turner at shortstop and Starlin Castro at second base, the Nationals have two reliable veterans at the two positions Carter Kieboom has always played. 

So now, the Nationals' top prospect is competing for the starting third base job with seasoned veteran Asdrubal Cabrera. Once one of the best shortstops in baseball, Cabrera has fallen off defensively and has limited range nowadays, though he was still a key contributor to the Nationals' World Series championship in 2019. 

Instead of viewing Kieboom as just his competition and doing everything he can to win the job, Cabrera has taken on the role of mentor for the 22-year-old infielder.

“(Cabrera) takes ground balls with (Kieboom) every day,” Martinez said, according to MASN's Pete Kerzel. “I’ve asked him, ‘Hey, you need to take ground balls at second, too, and short sometimes.’ Religiously, for the purpose of being with Carter, he stands with Carter, helping him with his throws, making sure he understands that footwork is important when he’s throwing. ... He talks to him all the time about a bunch of different things, how to play positions, not take your at-bats to the field. He’s been unbelievable with him, he really has. It’s been good for Carter.”

Kieboom has struggled with errors through the early days of spring ball, which is to be expected considering he's a young player at a position he's never played regularly on the professional level. While a bunch of errors in February are nothing to get too concerned over, Kieboom will have to cut those down in March if he wants to win the job. 

Cabrera is seen as the backup plan at third if Kieboom can't secure the job during spring training. The 34-year-old is entering his 14th season and would probably be better maximized if he didn't have to play every day. 

If Kieboom isn't ready though, it wouldn't be the best idea for the Nationals to force it. So over the course of the next three weeks, we'll see just how much Cabrera can help the youngster. 

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Jayson Werth explains why he 'always thought' Bryce Harper could end up with Phillies

Jayson Werth explains why he 'always thought' Bryce Harper could end up with Phillies

During Phillies spring training on Friday, Jayson Werth visited his old team and former Nationals teammate Bryce Harper. It just so happened he had arrived on the one-year anniversary of Bryce Harper deciding to leave Washington to sign a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. 

Werth spent six seasons sharing an outfield with Harper but before his days in Washington, he helped the Phillies win the World Series in 2008. His play in Philadelphia earned him a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals in 2011. 

Harper's exit from DC is a sore subject for Nationals fans, even though a World Series championship definitely helped numb the pain. Werth explained in a story by NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury that he always had a hunch Harper could end up in Philly. 

"I always thought this would be a possible destination for him, even way back when, for a bunch of reasons," Werth said. "Kind of where the team was, the money was right, the owner was right, the town's right.

"But more than anything else," Werth added with widening eyes, "Citizens Bank Park is just an awesome place to hit. We always talked about that."

Werth clarified he doesn't want anyone to think he was pushing Harper to Philadelphia, just that as players they naturally had plenty of conversations about other ballparks. And it's hard to argue with that. 

Before he played a single game for the Phillies, Harper was Citizens Bank Park's all-time leader in slugging percentage. In 2019, Harper hit the second-most homers of his career (35) and his second-highest slugging percentage as well.

Werth even enjoyed a nice bump hitting in Philadelphia. During his time with the Nats, Werth his .291 with a .922 OPS to go along with 15 home runs and 45 RBI in 52 trips to Citizens Bank Park. 

Between the 81 games in a hitters ballpark and a $330 million contract without the deferred payments the Nationals reportedly offered to Harper last year, it makes a decent amount of sense he decided to take his talents north. 

But hey, the Nationals won a World Series the following season, and in epic fashion I might add, while there's no guarantee the Phillies get there any time soon. I mean, have you seen their pitching staff outside of Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler?

So Bryce is happy and Nats fans are happy. Everyone wins, right? 

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