Carter Kieboom experienced what he described as “failure” when he was called up the big leagues for the first time last season. Kieboom, 22, and a 2016 1st Round pick, came up for eleven days, going 5 for 43 (.128/.209/.282) with two home runs, four walks, and 16 Ks in 11 games and 43 plate appearances, and he made four errors in ten games in the field before he was sent back down to the Washington Nationals’ top minor league affiliate.
“I learned tons,” Kieboom said today, upon arriving in West Palm Beach, FL for the start of Spring Training.
“I learned more in that two weeks — I went up there and failed a lot,” he acknowledged.
“Had a little bit of success, but I failed a lot, and to fail in an environment like that, it’s different. You deal with media after games — if I had two errors in a game in the minor leagues, I don’t have to deal with any media after. It’s just a matter of how you handle things, and I don’t like to fail, but I never felt uncomfortable by any means up there, just whatever, just take it day-by-day up there, really, just try to be yourself.”
“Things happen quickly up here and the game gets really fast,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said in a Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio Town Hall with Chuck Todd last month.
“I think he understands what happened. With that being said, he went back down and he worked diligently, and he’s a good hitter, as we all know, and he’s going to work with [Tim Bogar] and hopefully we’re going to get him ready.”
Kieboom finished the 2019 campaign with a .303/.409/.493 line, 24 doubles, three triples, and 16 home runs in 109 games and 494 PAs at Triple-A Fresno, though his power dipped during the second half (.280/.374/.351 line, six doubles, two HRs in 42 games) after he tore up Pacific Coast League pitching in the first half (.320/.431/.590 line, 18 doubles, 14 HRs in 67 games).
Coming into the 2020 campaign, the infielder knows what to expect of the whole Spring Training experience, and knows what the Nationals expect of him, which is a focus on his play at third base, with the club hoping he can claim the spot this Spring and take over at the hot corner following the departure of Anthony Rendon via free agency this winter.
“Yeah, that helps,” Kieboom said of knowing where the club wants him to play after he has played second, short, and third in previous seasons. “It always helps when you have a little reassurance as to what your primary goal is for the season. Last year, I came in, I did... I played a lot of shortstop still and worked on a lot of second base last year, so I was doing two positions, and now that I kind of knew ahead of time what the primary goal was, and that’s third base, now I’m not doing 50/50 or 60/40, I’m doing 100% third base and that’s the task at hand and that’s always very helpful.”
“Obviously, Carter is a guy that we’re hoping takes the reins and runs with it,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters last week, as Spring Training got started.
“He’ll get every opportunity to make the club and to be our everyday guy, but we’ve got a lot of contingency plans if that doesn’t work out and we’ve got some really professional players that know how to play the position and I like our versatility. We have several guys who can play in that spot, and we feel really good about all those options.”
Kieboom has played a total of 10 games at third base as a professional, though he’s done plenty of work there and gotten reps all offseason as he prepares to see if he can claim a spot on the Opening Day roster. The hardest part of the transition?
“I don’t know,” Kieboom said. “I feel very comfortable over there. I feel very prepared and ready to go.
“This is all I’ve been working on all offseason, and at this point in my career this is the most I’ve ever felt prepared and ready to play.”
He’s also ready for what’s different at third, as opposed to short, or second base.
“I do a lot of routine stuff. You can do similar stuff — it’s still fielding ground balls, you still have short hops, long hops, the ball just gets on you a little bit quicker. You’re not making necessarily reads in terms of five-six steps, your reads now are maybe a drop-step or two-three steps and a dive. So everything is a little bit shorter, but you also do have a lot of time and that’s something that — it is a longer throw, but you do have time because it gets on you so quick over there, and that’s just something that I just feel very comfortable over there, I really do, and I’m excited to get out there and start playing.”
The feeling this Spring, as opposed to last year?
“It’s a little bit different in terms of the position that I am [in] ... but how I treat it is not any different,” Kieboom explained. “Last year was my first camp, it was my first time around all these guys for an extended period of time, got to learn from all of them, bringing back a lot of veterans again and a lot of guys I can continue to learn from, so yeah, it’s a little bit different, but it’s the same mentality, same focus, you know what I mean, no pressure, at the end of the day I just continue to do what I do and I know that’s what got me here and that’s what’s going to take me to the next level.”