It’s a big Spring for the Nationals’ 22-year-old, 2016 1st Round pick (28th overall), who is in camp trying to lock down the third base job in D.C. following the departure of free agent Anthony Rendon, who left a big hole at the hot corner when he signed on long-term with the Los Angeles Angels this winter, taking a 7-year/$245M deal.
Law writes that the top prospect in the Nationals’ organization, who lands at No. 74 on the list, has his value, “... almost entirely tied up in his hit tool, which I’ve had multiple scouts and execs tell me could be a 60 at its peak, likely making him an above-average regular at second or third,” though he notes that, “... [t]hat’s far and away the most important variable for Kieboom, who isn’t a shortstop and whose other tools are short.”
Kieboom was drafted as a shortstop, but he’s played second and third in the minors as well, as the club tried to prepare him for wherever there is an opportunity with the big league club.
The focus this Spring is on Kieboom playing third, where he has 10 games of experience so far as a professional.
Kieboom, Law writes, has hit wherever he’s been as a pro, outside of the short time he spent in the majors last season, when he was called up due to a number of injuries on the roster in the big leagues and went 5 for 43 (.128/.209/.282) with two home runs, four walks, and 16 Ks in 11 games and 43 plate appearances, looking overmatched at times, and struggling in the field before he was sent down.
Kieboom did, however, finish up the 2019 campaign with a .303/.409/.493 line, 24 doubles, and 16 home runs in 109 games and 494 PAs with the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate at Triple-A Fresno.
“He looks like he has the right combination of swing and approach to get to that 60 hit tool,” Law wrote on Monday, “although I think a 55 is a safer bet; that, with average power and above-average defense at either likely position, would make him a solid regular for a long time.”
At second or third, The Athletic writer added, there is the, “... possibility of above-average defense at second or third with time and work.”
“He had a great year,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said of Kieboom’s 2019 campaign earlier this winter.
“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.”
Upon arriving at the Nationals’ Spring Training facilities in West Palm Beach, FL earlier this month, Kieboom told reporters that there was some benefit to knowing that he’s going to focus on third base this season, after working at multiple positions in the last few years.
“It always helps when you have a little reassurance as to what your primary goal is for the season,” he said.
“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.”
Will Kieboom claim the third base job this Spring, or start the year in the minors again and come up once he’s more polished and there are no more service time considerations?
It’s looking so far like the Nationals will give the prospect every opportunity to take the job and start the season in the majors.