“This whole thing is crazy to me,” Carter Kieboom told reporters in Nationals Park a few hours before the 21-year-old, 2016 1st Round pick made his MLB debut.
“I mean, I was in high school three years ago ... doing art projects and stuff, so this is like. I don’t even — it’s hard to even describe it. I think it’s going to really set in when I take the field for the first time and get my first hit, get my first out on defense, do all that other stuff.
“There are going to be a lot of firsts out there and they’re all going to feel really good out there.”
He fielded his first grounder at short in the top of the second, and K’d looking at a 3-2 slider from San Diego Padres’ lefty Matt Strahm in his first at bat in the majors in the home-half of the third.
Before the game, Kieboom, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez, and Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo all talked about the top prospect in the organization getting an opportunity to show what he has to offer while Washington waits for Trea Turner (broken right index finger) to return to the lineup.
“An opportunity is all you can ask for as a player,” Kieboom said.
“If you’re given an opportunity then you get a chance to showcase what you can do at this level. That is all I ask for, is just an opportunity, I think that’s all any player has ever wanted when they get called up is an opportunity to show what they can do, but to know I’m going to be given a legit opportunity is a huge factor.
“It gives you confidence. Really for me I am excited to be here. I haven’t read into anything. I don’t know what the whole game plan is exactly, but I know I am starting tonight and that’s where I’m at first. My head is on the game tonight.”
“Knowing that he was coming up,” Martinez said, “I was excited, just to see him play with Juan [Soto] and [Victor] Robles together up here, and some of the other guys. We’re not — by any means — our old guys aren’t very old either, we’re fairly young, so it’s a good group of guys. He’s coming into a great situation, and he’s going to play. I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get an opportunity to play every day, and just go out there and have fun.”
”This is the golden days of young players, man,” Rizzo said, on a night the Nationals ran a 21-year-old shortstop, 20-year-old left fielder, and 21-year-old center fielder out there against the San Diego Padres.
“It seems like a lot of players that are very young, and extremely talented in the league, and every [team] has a few of them. We’re fortunate that we’ve got ourselves a handful of guys that are impact players at a very young age, and it’s a credit to our scouts, and our player development, and our international market, and these things don’t happen without those guys.”
The decision to call on Kieboom, Rizzo said, was made easier because the young shortstop and second baseman performed so well on the way up through the system.
Kieboom had a .379/.506/.636 line, six doubles, a triple, three home runs, 16 walks, and 20 Ks over 18 games at Triple-A Syracuse before he was called up.
“We wanted to get him some Triple-A at bats under his belt,” Rizzo said “He’s performed admirably at the Triple-A level. With Trea still being weeks away, not months, but weeks away, we felt that it not only will get one of our best prospect’s feet wet in the big leagues, give him some experience, but it also strengthens a strength of ours in putting Wilmer Difo back into a more comfortable role of being that super-utility player that can play multiple positions and help us off the bench.
“We are excited to see him in his big-league debut and like we do usually with our top prospects, he’s going to play a lot and we’re going to be excited to see him perform.“
Kieboom’s reaction when he got the call?
“You want to yell,” he said, “but you’re a little bit of everything. You get emotional. Because it’s like all of a sudden everything that you’ve done your whole life for this game, things you’ve sacrificed, and your family sacrificed for you, and what your friends have done for you and stuff like that, it’s kind of all accumulated into one saying, and, ‘You’re going to the big leagues,’ and to hear that and see everything kind of pay off is real comforting and feels really good and like a great accomplishment.”
Kieboom was 0 for 2 with a backwards K and a groundout when he stepped to the plate with the Nationals trailing 3-2 in the eighth and hit a hanging slider from Craig Stammen over the center field wall a game-tying solo home run. His first MLB hit cleared the center field fence in Nationals Park, and he got a curtain call from the appreciative crowd in D.C.
He struck out with the bases loaded and the Nationals trailing by a run in the ninth, but overall it was an impressive debut.
“Talk about a whirlwind of emotions that was,” Kieboom said. “I entered the game just from an offensive standpoint just wanting to stick with an approach, I stuck with it all night, worked out once, but no, I went with an approach and that’s what worked for me and that’s what I stuck with, but it was an amazing night. It sucks that we lost. [Max] Scherzer pitched a heck of a game, put us in a great situation, gave us a great opportunity to win the game.
“We had it there at the end, and just came up short, but that’s the nature of the game sometimes and we’ll be back at it tomorrow.”
And that curtain call, with his parents in attendance for his first MLB game?
“That’s — I’m not sure I’ve ever even dreamed that, but that was unbelievable,” Kieboom told reporters.
“Like that was — that’s like the cherry on top of anybody’s call-up moment, that was real special and I really appreciate the fans for doing that.”