Even though 2018 was largely disappointing for the Washington Nationals, they were able to find a few silver linings.
One of those positives was the performance of catcher Spencer Kieboom, who proved himself more than capable at the big league level.
In 2018, he ended up slashing .232/.322/.320 with a pair of home runs and 13 RBI as the primary backup catcher following his call-up in May. But towards the end of the year, he got hot as the team leaned on him more over somewhat of a lame duck in Matt Wieters.
From August 18th onward, Kieboom slashed an impressive .304/.396/.478 while posting a 143 wRC+ in that time. That wRC+ was the fourth highest among catchers with at least 30 plate appearances in that time.
But perhaps Kieboom’s best asset during his big league stint was his defensive prowess.
As well as drawing praise from the pitching staff for his game-calling, the backstop threw out 11 of the 27 potential base-stealers. The .593 stolen base percentage against him was the fifth lowest among catchers with at least 20 would-be base-stealers.
It was certainly a memorable year for the catcher, who had his fair share of moments along the way, with a couple of them that stand out above the rest.
“[Home run in Philly] was a good moment,” he reminisced. “That was off one of my best friends Nick Pivetta, who was with us at one point. But I would have to say playing at Yankee Stadium and throwing out Didi [Gregorius] from my knees. That was my favorite moment.”
Although he did make the big leagues back in 2016 as a September call-up, this was his first extended stay at the highest level. That made it a huge learning experience for the catcher.
“I learned that you’ve just got to put your head down and keep going,” Kieboom said.
“You’ve got wait for opportunities and you’ve got to try and seize the most of them. You’ve got to be yourself, that’s why you’re there and that’s important.”
Even though he impressed last season, the Nats made a strong effort to improve behind the plate this offseason by acquiring Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. While it left Kieboom as the third option, he made the most of his time with the veterans this spring.
“You talk to them, try to learn as much as I can,” the catcher said. “Try to get to know them as well as best I can as well. Two really good guys. I only have positive things to say about them for the two months I was with them.”
The two new catchers now leave Kieboom with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators as the emergency catching option, given the geographical challenges of Triple-A Fresno.
But it’s far from a knock on the Clemson product being the odd man out in this situation. If anything, it’s a testament to the Nationals’ current depth at catcher that they have Kieboom waiting in the wings as a dependable catcher should injuries strike.
In the meantime, he’s a valuable veteran presence for a young and successful Senators team that’s on a tear to start the season.
They moved to a remarkable 20-4 on Monday night as everything seems to fall into place for Matt LeCroy’s squad.
“We’ve got a good mesh of young and old guys and I think it benefits everybody,” Kieboom said. “Benefits the life when it comes to the older guys. It benefits the experience when it comes to some of the younger guys when they can learn from the older guys.”
One of the early highlights of the season for the team was the combined no-hitter against the Bowie Baysox. Erick Fedde, Jordan Mills, and Aaron Barrett worked together to make history, with Kieboom behind the plate calling the shots.
“It’s the first one I’ve ever caught. I can honestly say it’s the first one I’ve ever caught and called myself,” Kieboom said of the no-no.
“It was kind of funny, Aaron [Barrett] and I were talking about it because he pitched, the last time we got that close, we had one out in the ninth. Aaron was on a rehab assignment and pitched the first inning of it, when I was in High-A.”
“It was kind of cool and how it worked out that he was pitching again and had the opportunity to do it.”
“I don’t care what level you’re at or what you’re doing, that’s just a cool thing. It’s fun to see everybody and the guys who accomplished it as well do that feat.”
Spencer is also a very proud big brother right now, with younger brother Carter Kieboom making his big league debut on Friday.
The shortstop hit a game-tying home run that night with Spencer watching in Hartford after Harrisburg’s game was rained out.
“It was average for him,” the elder Kieboom said jokingly. “I was excited for him. I’m excited for my parents, I’m excited for my brother, I’m excited. It’s a special moment and there’s no real words to describe the excitement you have for something like that.”
The pair’s family traveled to D.C. for the weekend to witness Carter’s debut and subsequent home run. They were even seen celebrating the game-tying blast on the broadcast. A pretty cool moment and big brother Spencer made sure to congratulate him afterward.
“I sent him a text message telling him I was proud of him and excited for everything that’s going to be coming his way,” Spencer said on Saturday.
“We’ll probably catch up really in the next couple of days once everything dies down a little bit for him. I don’t need to bombard him with too much stuff, he’s got plenty on his plate.”
And as highly regarded as Carter is, he doesn’t have a bigger fan than his oldest brother.
“In a sense, it’s almost like you could say somebody was groomed to do it,” Spencer said. “But at the same time, he’s put in all the work, he’s done everything, but he’s also had everything around him fall into place which is perfect.”
Hopefully, at some point, we get to see both Carter and Spencer take the field together in a big league game. Maybe even nail a potential base-stealer together. That really would be the icing on the cake for the two Kieboom brothers.
Until then, Spencer will continue to be a part of the success in Harrisburg and be ready to take any opportunity in the big leagues should it arrive.