Both Washington Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo and Nats’ manager Davey Martinez were clear that their collective decision to send a struggling Carter Kieboom down to their Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia in late August this past season was about breaking some bad habits the 23-year-old had developed at the plate.
“We felt that he was getting into bad habits,” Rizzo explained once Kieboom returned to the majors a week-plus later. “[He was] pressing, getting into bad habits, so we felt — send him down for 10 days. He worked with Brian Daubach and Randy Knorr and those guys down in Fredericksburg. Dauber had him in [Triple-A] Fresno last year, so he knew his swing intimately.
“We made a few adjustments with him with his hands and his positioning as a hitter, and when his ten days were up, we brought him back up here and he’ll play the rest of the way and I consider him a big part of our future and one of our core players that we’re going to build around.”
“I talked to [Rizzo],” Martinez said of the club’s decision-making process. “We thought about it, and he was struggling, and I want to protect him the best I can. I felt like yesterday, really yesterday, he was playing more for results, and when you start doing that, you start getting frustrated when you don’t get the hits.”
Kieboom put up a .200/.359/.200 line with 11 walks and 20 strikeouts over 17 games and 64 plate appearances before his stay in Virginia, and he returned to the majors for the final few weeks of the regular season, posting a .204/.328/.224 line with a double (his only extra base hit on the season), six walks, and 13 Ks in 16 games and 58 PAs in September.
His 2020 campaign ended late in the month when a bone bruise caused by a hit-by-pitch forced him to shut it down.
“There was definitely some positives to take away from this season,” Kieboom said once he learned he was done for the year.
“I’ll get to the other stuff. I was very happy with the way defense went this year. It was a new position and that was my big challenge to myself this year, was learning that position and trying to maintain it and play it to the best I can.”
“From an [offensive] standpoint,” he added, “obviously it was not the way I wanted it to go, but I learned a lot, I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
Going into the offseason, the 2016 1st Round pick said, his focus on the offensive end was going to be maintaining his good habits he worked on and his swing, “... and [trying] to be consistent as possible.”
“I don’t necessarily always think it’s the swing, it’s more of an approach, and that’s kind of what I worked on a lot this year.
“I tried many different approaches, and different ways to attack pitchers and stuff like that.”
While the offensive issues raised some concerns, everyone seemed happy with the progress Kieboom made defensively at third base.
“I like where he’s come defensively,” Rizzo said once the infielder came back to the majors in September.
“He’s really transformed himself from playing shortstop to third base — which is not an easy transition, especially in the big leagues.
“I‘ve had experience doing that and it’s tough to play third base in the big leagues.
“Not very many routine balls and it’s a real reaction position and you really have to get acquainted with the speed at the major league level at that position.”
“I was very happy with the way defense went this year,” Kieboom said.
“It was a new position and that was my big challenge to myself this year, was learning that position and trying to maintain it and play it to the best I can.
“I was very happy with the way that went, and the success and all the stuff that I’ve worked on and all the failure, and learn from those mistakes.
“I was very pleased with the way that went.”
Going into the offseason, Martinez said, there was a lot to learn and take from Kieboom’s first extended exposure in the majors.
“He’s never struggled in the past, and he’s always — so for me it’s about getting back to who you are and knowing who you are,” the manager said. “And don’t try to make like big adjustments, just make very simple adjustments. That’s something that we’ve talked about, something that he’s going to work on this winter, and just keep it simple.
“And I’ve always said, hey, you hit before, you’re going to hit again. Your two-strike approach was actually really good, accepted his walks. So that’s key to me when you’re a young hitter.
“Just go out there, and the fact is when you get a good ball to hit, you put a good swing on it, and you want to put it in play, you don’t want to foul balls off, so, for him, his timing was sometimes a little off, we talked about that a lot with him. But I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you’re going to get an opportunity to come here and do it again.”
“Unfortunately, your season ended with a hand injury,” the skipper added, “... nothing you can do about it, so but let’s work this winter, get stronger, keep working on your defense, and come back in Spring Training ready to go.”
“Now that I’m done, I can really — I have a couple of days, not much time, to look back on my season and figure out what are the things that I really want to work on,” Kieboom said.
“I’m going to go home, give myself some time, let my hand rest and that sort of thing, but I’m sure around — I don’t know given the offseason what’s going to happen exactly, if I do anything else baseball-wise, but from practice, I plan to go into this offseason like I really do honestly every offseason.
“I don’t think there’s any need to really change what I’ve been doing. I think — baseball is a crazy game, who knows what could have happened if we had 60 more games to play this year, maybe I don’t go into the offseason thinking okay I’ve got to maybe work on this adjustment for my swing.
“If I had 60 more games, who knows. So, you know, I’ll just try to work on my swing, and make it as consistent as possible, something that’s more easy to repeat, and continue to work on my defense and go that route.”