How quickly Carter Kieboom can make the transition to third base will be paramount to the Nationals' World Series championship defense in 2020.
Rizzo's betting on Kieboom to fill the large shoes of Anthony Rendon, who signed with the Angels in free agency. No small task.
"He's made extremely good progress defensively," Rizzo said. "Don't forget the move from shortstop to third base is not an easy one. I did it as a minor leaguer way back in the day. It's a very, very tough position to play, especially in the big leagues with the exit velocity that these guys are coming out of the box with."
Washington's first-round pick in 2016, Kieboom struggled early defensively in his brief and first call-up to the big leagues in 2019, registering four errors in just 10 games at shortstop. He spent the rest of the summer in the Pacific Coast League, where he committed 16 errors in 109 games for the Fresno Grizzlies, splitting time between third base, second and short.
It was there Kieboom's bat came to life, averaging .303 with 24 doubles, three triples, 16 home runs and 79 RBI across 412 plate appearances, showing why he's such an alluring prospect.
"It's a quick-twitch reaction position. We think that Carter's athletic enough to play it," Rizzo continued. "Footwork, he's gotta get better at it."
"But it's a repetition thing and there's nothing like taking live reps," he said. "You can get as many Fungos as you want and do as many footwork drills as you want, but when you get balls off the bat at 108, 111 miles an hour that are coming down that line, it's repetition, it's live repetition that really helps you improve."
"I see this guy getting better and better," Rizzo added. "High baseball IQ on Carter. So he's gonna get it, it's just a matter of how quickly he can get it and adjust to it at the big league level. But we've got high hopes for Carter to become a real stalwart and a real part of this franchise, a core player for us."
Overall, Rizzo likes the Nationals' lineup he put together in the offseason, although he notes – after losing Rendon – they'll have to score in different ways in 2020.
"It's got a good mix of good veteran, professional type of hitters," he said. "It's got speed. It's got power. We can generate offense in many, many different ways. We can manufacture runs. We're capable of doing the bloop and the blast and scoring three or four runs at a time. I really like the depth and the options that Davey Martinez is gonna have in the lineup."
"I'm confident that our offense is gonna be a championship caliber offense," he added. "We're gonna score runs. We may score them differently than we did in the Harper days and the Rendon days, but it's not how you score 'em, it's how many you score. I think we're going to be a very efficient offense and we're going to have to play the game the right way."
"I think we've put together a team that's gonna challenge with anybody to win the World Series," he said.