Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked at the Winter Meetings about the top infield prospect in the organization, Carter Kieboom, and where the 22-year-old, former first round pick (2016) is in his development at this point.
How far away is he from contributing at the big league level for the Nationals after making his MLB debut early last season?
“He’s close,” Martinez said. “After we had him, he went back down to AAA [Fresno], kept his head up, and played really well, hit well, did some adjustments. He’s going to come to Spring Training and get a shot to play different positions. We’ll see. We’ll see what transpires, but he’s a kid that we value very much. We know what he can do with the bat. We’ve got to figure out a position for him, whether it’s second base or third base, but I think that he adds some value and he could help us in the future.”
Kieboom got his first taste of the majors last April, but he struggled at the plate and in the field, going 5 for 43 (.128/.209/.282) with two home runs, four walks, and 16 Ks in 43 plate appearances over 11 games, making four errors in ten games in the field before he was sent back down to the Nationals’ top affiliate.
Kieboom finished the year with a .303/.409/.493 line, 24 doubles, three triples, and 16 home runs in 109 games and 494 PAs at Triple-A.
“Being sent down didn’t set me back at all,” Kieboom told reporters over the weekend at the Nationals’ WinterFest celebration.
“I was still very excited. I wasn’t derailed by any means. When I got sent down — I went down there and it was kind of a relief. I could get back to finding myself, finding who I was again, and get back to my craft and focus on what got me there in the first place.”
“He went back down, and I’ve seen a lot of guys that came up and had a rough time that go back down and don’t quite put it together,” Martinez said in December.
“He went back down there and had a really good year in AAA.”
“He had a great year,” GM Mike Rizzo said at WinterFest this weekend. “He took a great step forward from where he was the season before. We feel that he’s going to be a really good player for us. A 21-year-old in the big leagues and then in Triple-A all season, that doesn’t happen very often and we feel good about where he’s at and we still think that he’s an everyday player in the big leagues that can hit in the middle of the lineups, and be a good big league player for many, many years to come.”
The question, right now, is where Kieboom will play when he does come up to the majors again. Drafted as a shortstop, he’s played second and third as well in the minors, and the final decision will likely depend on where there’s a need when he’s deemed ready.
Right now, it looks like third base is the most likely destination, depending upon what else happens this winter and where the pieces the Nationals have added will end up playing, it could be second base too though.
“We think we’re going to be solid at third base, all of our options can play it very well,” Rizzo said on Saturday.
“Kieboom is unproven there at the big league level, but he’s a competent shortstop and we feel comfortable from what we’ve seen in the minor leagues at third and at second with him. And of course [Starlin] Castro can do them both and [Asdrúbal] Cabrera can play everywhere, so we feel good about it. We mix Howie [Kendrick] in the mix somewhere, second, third, first, and we feel good about where we’re at.”
Where does Kieboom feel most comfortable?
“I grew up playing a lot of third base,” Kieboom said. “Obviously at the professional level I don’t have very many reps at third base, as well as second base, I don’t have too much as compared to what some guys get, but I really feel comfortable at both of them. I look forward to showing everybody what I can do at both of them, especially at third base in Spring Training. That’s something that I’ve really worked on this offseason, aside from the hitting and some second base, and still doing some stuff at shortstop, you never know, but third base is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Not knowing exactly where he’ll be needed, the young infielder said, hasn’t been an issue for him.
“It’s been fine. I mean, honestly, I haven’t put too much thought into it. I’ve thought about it, obviously, so I want to be ready when I show up to Spring Training, but I’m showing up to Spring Training ready to play any of the positions in the infield really. I’ve obviously put more emphasis at certain spots, but I feel very comfortable at all of them I really do. I mean that when I say it, and I’m pretty honest, so I’m real excited to get an opportunity over there.”
As for what, if anything, the Nationals’ brass has told him about what to expect this time around in Spring Training?
“I think when I was sent down the message was clear, it was, ‘Get back down there, and focus on your craft, and you’ll be back up here,’” Kieboom said. “And really, I think, as an infielder in the minor leagues you’re taught to play all the positions. I didn’t play all the positions in games the past few years, but I did take some reps at each position when I was practicing whatever I was doing, so really yeah, it’s going to be different on the field during games, but I still feel very comfortable. There’s no definite answer that they give me, but it’s enough to where I know what to set my sights on, and work on.”
With the hot corner stalwart for the past seven seasons moving on to Los Angeles there is a big opportunity at third base in 2020, and Kieboom said he’s ready for the challenge.
“As ready as I possibly could be,” he clarified. “I got my taste last year. I learned tons of stuff, and I’m definitely better from it. I think as a player, if you get an opportunity to go up there and it doesn’t work out, and you get another opportunity to be able to go up there, you can’t really beat that. So, I’m really excited, this is the best I’ve ever felt in the offseason.”