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What to Watch: Nationals Spring Training

Fresh off a World Series win in 2019, the Washington Nationals come to their spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Florida riding high. GM Mike Rizzo wasted no time in preparing for Washington’s quest to repeat as world champions in 2020. The Nationals brought back key players like World Series hero Howie Kendrick from their championship run. In addition, the Nats added veterans such as Eric Thames, Starlin Castro and Will Harris to counteract their off-season losses.

Like many other organizations around the league, the Nationals have questions of their own when it comes to finalizing their Opening Day roster. Washington begins their season on March 26 in Queens against the Mets.

The Bullpen

During the 2019 season, the Nationals’ bullpen was arguably one of the worst in baseball. Somehow, manager Davey Martinez found a way to push the right buttons during the Nats surge in the postseason. Needing to address the issue, the front office signed career minor leaguer Kyle Finnegan to a major league deal after he dominated at the Double and Triple-A level last season in the Oakland Athletics’ organization. Finnegan, 28, pitched in a combined 42 games between the two levels last season and recorded a 2.31 ERA in 50.2 innings.

Realizing that a career minor leaguer wasn’t going to make a big difference in the bullpen, Rizzo & Co. reached out to former Astros’ reliever Will Harris. Harris infamously gave up the go-ahead home run to Kendrick in Game Seven of the World Series last season. However, the Nats rewarded him with a three-year, $24 million deal during the off-season to help the bullpen. He carries a career 2.84 ERA which includes a 1.50 ERA in 68 games last season.

Come Opening Day, Martinez will likely have eight relievers available in the bullpen. The Nats have a plethora of options available to choose from. Among those include: Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias, Hunter Strickland, Joe Ross, Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey, Erick Fedde, Fernando Abad, Sam Freeman, David Hernandez, Kevin Quackenbush and of course, Harris and Finnegan.

Who’s Playing Third?

The Nationals had two homegrown superstars hit the free agent market this winter. Both starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon both commanded separate seven-year, $245 million contracts. The Nationals were able to keep Strasburg, but were unable to find the funds to keep Rendon. The former sixth overall pick took his talents to Anaheim to play for the Angels. The main question that comes from Rendon’s departure is who is going to play third base this season?

Option One: The Rookie

Top prospect Carter Kieboom seems to be the most likely option to take the reigns at third to begin the season. Although he struggled in his brief stint with the club in May, Kieboom, 21, dominated in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The No. 25 overall prospect hit .303/.409/.493 good for an OPS of .902. Kieboom also added 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 109 games for the Fresno Grizzlies.

Option Two: The Vet

Asdrubal Cabrera, 34, came over to Washington mid-season in 2019 following his release from the Rangers in August due to his poor play for the majority of the season. In a brief stint of his own with the Nats, Cabrera turned his season around and eventually claimed the starting second base job over Brian Dozier by the time the postseason began. In 38 games with Washington, Cabrera hit .323/.404/.565 and added in 10 doubles, six homers and 40 RBIs.

The winner of the third base job will likely be the player with the hotter spring. If Cabrera wins the job, Kieboom will likely be sent back down to Triple-A to begin the season. If both Kieboom and Cabrera have identical stats by the end of Spring Training, it’s very likely we see Martinez deploy a platoon between the two to maximize their production for the team.

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